It took just two plays and 55 seconds for Jets fans to wonder if this would be another ugly trip to Buffalo for the Green & White. The Jets entered Sunday's game having lost their past three games at Ralph Wilson Stadium and eight of 11 after traveling to Western New York. Just a minute following kickoff, the weather wasn't the only thing that appeared ominous.
Then Kerry Rhodes came in and turned it all around.
Rhodes, who has emerged as the secondary's rising star, turned the tables on the streaking Bills early in the first quarter with his second sack of the season. Much like week two's explosive attack around the left side of the Patriots offensive line, Rhodes sprinted through Buffalo's protection and strip-sacked Bills quarterback J.P. Losman. The ball bounced its way to the near right sideline before being eventually scooped up by linebacker Jonathan Vilma.
"He's done a good job taking information in and taking leadership in the secondary," said head coach Eric Mangini of Rhodes. "He's made some big plays here in the last few weeks, it's that type of commitment to improvement that's going to serve him well and serve us well."
Unfortunately, the New York offense was not able to take advantage of Rhodes' first takeaway. But the offense would eventually be just fine and they received a welcomed boost in their backfield.
Rookie tailback Leon Washington, who rushed for 25 yards on seven carries, came through with an electrifying wave of offense, potentially opening up a whole new chapter in the Jets playbook. In fact, it wasn't until Sunday morning when Derrick Blaylock was listed as inactive. Washington and Cedric Houston were both well-prepared to share the running load with Kevan Barlow, even before his number was called upon.
"Coach is always stressing - especially to the younger guys - to just prepare yourself all week long because you never know when your opportunity will come," said Washington. "That's what I did all week long."
Washington, a fourth round draft selection from Florida State, caught two passes for 52 yards, including a 47-yard reception that set up Barlow's three-yard scoring run.
"It was a great play. It was my job to catch the ball, and the offensive line did a good job and the receivers did a good job blocking downfield," Washington said. "We had the opportunity to make the big play and we made it."
With Washington's ability to catch the ball out of the backfield in addition to his breakaway speed, the Jets offensive attack gets another option, especially with defenses zoning in on wideouts Laveranues Coles and Jerricho Cotchery. In addition to Washington's emergence, Houston stepped in and found the end zone on just his second touch of the season.
"I thought Leon has been doing a nice job and I think Cedric has been doing a nice job in practice, and I wanted to give both those guys an opportunity," Mangini said following his second win as a head coach. "Leon got a few more opportunities running the ball, and I thought he did a pretty good job with those opportunities."
After the Jets came out of the locker room with a 14-10 lead, Losman and company were looking for a spark. Just four plays later, with the game still in reach, it was Rhodes who struck again and stole any sense of spark from the Bills' sideline. In addition to Rhodes' third strip-sack of the young season, his teammates were able to capitalize and put a defensive touchdown on the board.
Victor Hobson was able to smoothly gather the loose ball at the Bills' 32 and outlast the Buffalo offense zeroing in on him. It was then that the Jets took an imposing 21-10 lead, as well as all of the game's momentum.
"Kerry has been playing really well," Hobson said of Rhodes. "That's what we need. Kerry stepped up and that was a big play. It created a lot of momentum and helped us out greatly. Fortunately, the ball rolled to me and I was able to make a play."
Both rain-soaked and slightly shell-shocked from the bothersome Jets' defense, the Bills managed to string together some production late in the game to close the lead to 28-20. However, due to the early and reoccurring spark brought in by Rhodes, the Jets were too far ahead for any miraculous comeback.
"We made some plays when we had to, but we're still not exactly where we want to be," Rhodes said. "They made the plays when they had to, but we made the bigger plays when we had to. It's a big win early; we didn't want to fall to 0-2 in the division. We got two wins on the road, so it's pretty big."