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Sunday, December 10, 2023

Sauce Gardner, Jets secondary make Bills QB Josh Allen look human


EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — On New York’s final drive of its 20-17 win over the Buffalo Bills, the Jets called eight consecutive rushing plays before asking Zach Wilson to throw the ball. And when finally called upon, he delivered. 

On third-and-five from the 18-yard line with just about two minutes left in the game, Wilson fired the ball to receiver Denzel Mims for one of the game’s most important completions. Wilson and his offense managed the clock and forced the Bills to take all three of their timeouts.

Even though Wilson and the Jets couldn’t convert the drive for a touchdown, they got the go-ahead field goal. 

But the game wasn’t quite over.

It felt like, maybe, Josh Allen, starting at his own 25, could create some magic and drive the Bills downfield with one minute and 48 seconds, even without the timeouts. Maybe.

But the Jets defense showed up for that final drive. Defensive end Bryce Huff strip-sacked Allen on a third down, and though the Bills recovered, Huff forced a loss of 19 yards. On the following play, Allen heaved a prayer downfield to Gabe Davis and Jets cornerback Sauce Gardner, who has been sensational all year, broke up the pass. And that completed the defensive hold.

The Jets forced the Bills to play uncharacteristically bad football. New York did what has been a successful formula: Run the football like madmen, play outstanding defense and put Wilson in a situation where he can manage the game. It all worked out, even against one of the NFL’s best teams in the Bills.

Wilson may someday play like Allen. But they were starkly different quarterbacks in Week 9. And that was a good sign for Wilson, who tried to do too much and nosedived the Jets’ chances in the previous week against the Patriots. In this game, Wilson distributed quick passes, with a particular focus on Garrett Wilson

Meanwhile, the Jets secondary seemed to stump Allen, particularly in a series that concluded with about eight minutes left in the game. On second down, Allen nearly threw an interception to safety Jordan Whitehead. Then on third down, even Allen’s hero ball wouldn’t fall into place. He had Diggs open but underthrew the receiver slightly. That allowed just enough time for cornerback D.J. Reed to make a play on the ball.

Allen’s bad habits keep creeping their way back into games. As dominant as he is, he cannot eliminate the turnovers. And it allows opponents to get back into the game. A week after he was kicking himself for letting Aaron Rodgers back into the game, Allen threw two interceptions. His second was a really costly one. His defense had just stolen the ball with a Von Miller strip sack. Allen threw the ball to a space where he didn’t have any receivers — which, in fairness, might not have been on him. Cornerback Gardner found the football.

The first interception was equally head-scratching. 

After the opening kickoff, during which the Jets kicker fell over as he struck the ball, the Bills had great field position. Allen went right for Stefon Diggs for a 42-yarder. But that’s where the momentum halted. Allen rolled to his left and didn’t seem to see Whitehead, who cut in front of a pass for tight end Dawson Knox. It was an easy interception for New York.

The Jets might have taken an embarrassing loss to the Patriots last week, but this week, they proved they can still compete with the best in the NFL. They remain an intimidating team in an extremely impressive AFC East.

Prior to joining FOX Sports as the AFC East reporter, Henry McKenna spent seven years covering the Patriots for USA TODAY Sports Media Group and Boston Globe Media. Follow him on Twitter at @McKennAnalysis.

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