The free-falling Bills need a win just as badly as the Jets do this Sunday, making it a battle of two desperately mediocre teams with slim playoff hopes.
Coming in losers four of their last five games, the Bills look nothing like the team that started the season 4-1 and had become an early darling of the media. The downward spiral began in earnest three weeks ago when the Jets marched into Orchard Park, fresh off their bye week, and dealt the Bills a decisive 27-11 loss. Now, with both teams 5-5, the season very much hinges on this Sunday.
There is one advantage that the Jets, despite their identical record with the Bills, hold in this game. New York takes confidence from their win earlier this month. The defense played lights-out against the hyped Bills offense, consistently putting quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick under pressure while Mark Sanchez limited mistakes in the pocket in moving the team down the field.
“We just played the Buffalo Bills a few weeks ago,” wide receiver Plaxico Burress said. “I don’t think they’ve changed that much the past couple weeks.”
There-in lies the rub.
While there is a confidence, the Jets are guarding against it becoming cockiness. The task is still there for New York to get the win and begin gaining momentum for the stretch run.
“We definitely can’t be cocky right now. We’ve got way too much work to do, too much on our plate right now to think about overlooking any team, even if we beat them a couple weeks ago,” cornerback Kyle Wilson told Metro. “We may have beaten them a few weeks ago, but that doesn’t help us this week.”
For their part, the Bills come in equally hungry and much like the Jets they too face scrutiny at the quarterback position. If fans thought the performance of Sanchez has warranted criticism then they aren’t familiar with the play of Fitzpatrick.
It was has been a rough last three games for Fitzpatrick. He is averaging just 182 passing yards per game and has thrown seven touchdowns during this dip in form, having topped a 50 quarterback rating only once in those three losses. That one time was the Week 9 loss to the Jets, where Fitzpatrick’s rating was just 51.9.
Much like Jets head coach Rex Ryan shifts the blame away from Sanchez for his recent poor performances, Bills head coach Chan Gailey doesn’t send too much blame the direction of Fitzpatrick.
“Well we’re not playing the way we were playing earlier in the season and it’s not necessarily him even though I think he believes he can play a little bit better than he has been playing, but we can all do better, every one of us can, me included,” Gailey said. “I watch him play and it seems like we’ve had a different offensive line in there each week for the last three or four weeks and it seems like we’ve had different receivers going out there each week so it’s been hard on him. You have to stay healthy to create consistency and we have just not been able to create the consistency with the guys that are being plugged in.”
Not unlike the Bills, the consistency factor has killed the Jets this year. The team started with two wins, lost their next three, won three straight and now have lost their last two games. Given the talent on the team, it wouldn’t surprise anyone if the Jets rattle off six straight wins to make the playoffs, but right now they’re the only ones believing they can do just that.
“Whether people believe about the Jets on the outside or not, we believe in ourselves, and we’re going down swinging. If we go down, we’re going down swinging,” Ryan said. “But we think that we have a good enough team to where we can right the ship and get back to winning and get in those playoffs. That’s what it’s all about.”
Follow Jets beat writer Kristian Dyer on Twitter @KristianRDyer.