It's never easy at Buffalo, or almost never, and appropriately there was one uneasy moment for the Jets on the way to their best AFC East start in 10 years.
That came in the last two minutes of the first half, when the Bills appeared to win a major gamble by converting a fourth down on their side of the field, then slicing through the Jets' defense for a touchdown to cut the visitors' lead to 17-7.
Storm weathered. The Jets forced a punt on the first drive of the second half, then scored 21 unasnwered points a variety ways — two touchdown catches by Dustin Keller, one off the first passing TD of Brad Smith's career, and LaDainian Tomlinson's second score of the game — en route to one of their most comfortable, most satisfying victories in Orchard Park ever.
"I see our whole football team improving and now we're just hitting our stride," said Jets head coach Rex Ryan.
The final score was 38-14 and it was fashioned on a number of massive advantages, and it quantitatively tied the Jets' largest victory margin ever at Buffalo in this original AFL rivalry, matching the 34-10 margin in the 1983 game, and the 38-7 third-quarter lead was the largest ever by the Green & White in otherwise overcast western New York.
"Since I've been here, the games up here have almost always been one of those dogfights," said Brad Smith. "It felt really good, the way we played today and still knowing we've got a lot to improve on."
In a way, the triumph atoned for a costly loss a decade earlier,when the Jets last started a season with a 3-0 division record. That was 2000 and the Jets opened their AFC East schedule at 4-0, with the fourth win the Monday Night Miracle over the Dolphins. No. 5 was the next week — at Buffalo, and the Bills took care of business that day, 23-20.
"To go up like this in our division is great," said the turnover-free Mark Sanchez. "Now we have a chance to play some teams outside (the division) and hopefully rack up a few more wins."
Now the 2010 Jets have advanced to 3-0 in the division and 3-1 overall. They will have strengthened their early hand over New England and Miami, who meet on Monday night, and they will have fortified themselves for their own next MNF appearance, a week from Monday against Brett Favre and the Vikings, with the expected return of WR Santonio Holmes from his season-opening suspension and the hoped-for returns of injured starters Darrelle Revis and Calvin Pace.
There were many other stars. Shonn Greene (117 yards) joined Tomlinson (133, and 155 scrimmage yards) as 100-yard rushers — only the third time since 1975 that the Jets had a pair of three-figure runners in the same game. Keller now has eight TD receptions in his last seven games, including last year's playoffs. The defense spread out its honors as Dwight Lowery and Shaun Ellis had sacks of Bills QB Ryan Fitzpatrick and Jason Taylor set up Keller's second score with a recovery of Bryan Thomas' forced fumble against Marshawn Lynch.
The only thing the "D" struggled with was stopping Fitzpatrick's maneuverabiltiy. The QB dashed 74 yards on seven carries, helping to set up his two TD passes. But the first was too little and the second, with the Jets comfortably ahead by 31, was too late.
"They were 0-10 on third down and that's more like it," Ryan said of his defensive unit in reference to their 31st ranking on third down entering the game. "That's the style of play we're accustomed to. And like I said — bet against us and we'll see where we end up."
The Jets, who reached 40 minutes of possession on their final drive with Mark Brunell in his first action as Mark Sanchez's backup, began their first-half war of attrition with their second consecutive game-opening touchdown drive.
And it was very much an LT drive as Tomlinson touched the ball on six of the nine plays, rushing on five of them for 42 yards, with the final yard doing double duty. It produced the touchdown to give the visitors their 7-0 lead, and it lifted Tomlinson past Tony Dorsett and into seventh place on the NFL's all-time rushing list.
Then the Bills buckled down on defense, as they often do especially at The Ralph. The Jets blew great field position on the ensuing pooch-kickoff recovery at the Bills 39 when Nick Folk hit a 30-yard field goal wide left into the Orchard Park gusts. They moved the ball. But all they had to show for it through the first 26 minutes but one successful Folk field goal, from 19 yards, plus massive statistical edges: in yardage, first downs, plays and possession time.
Finally the dam broke for the Green & White after the Bills' fourth punt and third three-and-out series of the half. Sanchez dropped back, pumped once, then unloaded for Braylon Edwards, who whipped a double move on CB Leodis McKelvin, starting for the injured Terrence McGee. Edwards gathered in the throw and jogged into the end zone for a 41-yard TD and a 17-0 lead.
"In the past a big topic would be 'no letdowns, no letdowns.' We never even brought that up this week," said WR Jerricho Cotchery. "We're just focusing, improving as a team in all three phases."
That was the Jets' largest first-half lead in a road game against the Bills since 2001, and it was Edwards' fifth reception of 40 yards or longer, with four of them going for touchdown connections with Sanchez and the last two coming in the last two games. That's when coach Chan Gailey, rolling the dice for his winless side, went for it on fourth-and-2 at their 44. Fred Jackson took the Wildcat snap and gained 4 yards.
"It was disappointing. We had 'em on the ropes and we let 'em hang around," said WLB Bart Scott. "A team that's 0-3, you want to let 'em know that 0-4 is imminent."
Then followed three quick-strike Ryan Fitzpatrick completions — for 37 yards to WR David Nelson, with Brodney Pool trying and missing on his non-wrap-up tackle, for 11 yards to Nelson, then for 4 yards under heavy pressure to a wide-open David Martin in the end zone. With 33 seconds left, the home team had provided itself with a morale jolt heading into the locker room down by 10 rather than 17.
In the first 20 games of the Ryan regime, the Jets had three games of 28-plus points. In the last three games, they've equaled that with totals of 28, 31 and 38 points. ... A number of Jets made their debuts besides Brunell, including just-signed DT Trevor Pryce and rookie draft picks Joe McKnight and Vlad Ducasse.
Tomlinson had 111 yards from scrimmage in the first half, then notched his first 100-yard rushing game since 2008 in the third quarter, the play before he scored his second touchdown of the game. ... Dwight Lowery had a blitz sack in the second quarter, the Jets' first sack of the game against Fitzpatrick and the first of Lowery's three-year career. ...
Jets injuries: DE Shaun Ellis left in the third quarter after his third sack of the season with a knee injury. Eric Smith left with an illness late in the third. ... The Jets game captains were Nick Folk, Kellen Clemens, Shonn Greene, Drew Coleman and Ducasse.