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NFL Preview - N.Y. Jets (2-1) at Buffalo (0-3)
By Lyle Fitzsimmons, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - Take heart, Bills fans. It might be for the best.
Just a few years ago, when its football team was consistently among the NFL's elite, the city of Buffalo and its Western New York surroundings were chronically rushing to defend their collective honor.
As Jim Kelly & Co. racked up win after win in regular season after regular season, the analysts, commentators and pundits would inevitably utter a phrase in the back half of those schedules that went a little something like this:
"Folks, the road to the AFC championship goes through Buffalo in January."
And immediately, the damage control would begin.
Next-morning talk shows, afternoon radio DJs and evening anchors of all shape and size would channel the indignant sun-drenched masses, wondering where anyone had gotten the idea that Great Lakes weather in mid-winter is any different than San Diego, San Antonio or Santo Domingo.
It wasn't a pretty sight.
Throw in the fact the Bills remain annually reminded of two of the league's most signature playoff disasters - "Wide Right" in Super Bowl XXV and the "Music City Miracle" in the 2000 wild-card round - and the suffering only rarely subsides.
So perhaps what's happened in September isn't the worst thing after all.
In losing its initial three games of the 2010 season, what the current version of the Buffalo franchise may actually be doing is shielding a weary fan base from three months of further torture.
If familiarity breeds contempt, then anonymity might possibly yield catharsis.
And toward that end, the end of the month on One Bills Drive lately has had an appropriate "they'll never matter again" feel.
Quarterback Trent Edwards, a starter in 34 of 51 games since a third-round selection from Stanford in 2007, was rudely dumped on Monday - going from incumbent to expatriate a day after he watched from the sidelines as Buffalo fell to 0-3 with a 38-30 loss at New England.
Into his stead steps Harvard alum and former seventh-round pick Ryan Fitzpatrick, who'd had exactly 19 starts with two teams prior to signing with the Bills last year and gradually ebbing whatever public support Edwards had maintained.
Most importantly... in the coach's office.
"We're looking for a spark," said first-year boss Chan Gailey, relegating Edwards to the inglorious post-Kelly scrap heap of Todd Collins, Alex Van Pelt, Doug Flutie, Rob Johnson, Drew Bledsoe, Kelly Holcomb and J.P. Losman. "We're looking for something that gives us a new look and thought process.
"Those kinds of decisions are never easy. He gave us everything he had. We just felt like we were not going to go back in that direction at the next juncture. Trent did the best he could. He's a great young man, and I wish him the best."
Edwards was immediately claimed on waivers by Jacksonville, where coach Jack Del Rio said it was like getting another draft choice.
Meanwhile, on the other side at Ralph C. Wilson Stadium this week is a QB who's walking the "he's a bum/he's a savior" tightrope in a successful direction lately.
Second-year Jet Mark Sanchez was lambasted when New York covered just 176 yards in an ugly 2010 opener with Baltimore, but he bounced back with six touchdowns and zero interceptions as Gang Green beat New England and Miami in tone- setting Week 2 and 3 divisional games.
The Jets enter Week 4 in a three-way tie with the Patriots and Dolphins atop the AFC East, but hold both early-season tiebreakers and, with a win Sunday, could gain some more ground when those two teams play each other Monday night in South Florida.
"This is who he is," coach Rex Ryan said of Sanchez, who passed for 12 touchdowns with 20 interceptions in an uneven rookie year before leading the team to the AFC Championship Game. "He's having the kind of year we expect."
Additional buoying could come with return of linebacker Calvin Pace, who's been upgraded to questionable for Buffalo after sitting out the initial three games with a broken foot. Less certain, though, is the status of cornerback Darrelle Revis, who's doubtful with the balky hamstring that's kept him out since the second quarter of Week 2.
Neither man participated in Wednesday's team practice, while teammates Nick Mangold (shoulder) and Jason Taylor (elbow) were limited in the session and are also listed questionable for Sunday.
The Bills lead the all-time regular season series with the Jets by a 53-45 count, including an unconventional split of last year's home-and-home. Buffalo earned a 16-13 overtime victory when the teams met at the Meadowlands in Week 6, but the Jets were 19-13 winners when the teams met at Toronto's Rogers Centre in Week 13. Buffalo was swept by its longtime division rival in a 2008 home-and-home, including a 26-17 loss at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Week 9. The Bills last beat the Jets in Buffalo during the 2007 campaign.
In addition to leading the regular season series, the Bills won the only postseason meeting between the franchises, a 31-27 triumph in a 1981 AFC First-Round playoff.
Ryan is 1-1 against the Bills as a head man, while Buffalo's Gailey was 0-1 against the Jets during his tenure with the Cowboys (1998-99).
WHEN THE JETS HAVE THE BALL
The Jets have recently been successful in unfamiliar surroundings, going 6-3 in nine road games under Ryan in two seasons and winning five straight with the 31-23 triumph at Miami. The aforementioned Sanchez has been solid in both New Jersey and Florida over the past two weeks, completing 36-of-58 passes for 476 yards and a 122.5 passer rating. A three-TD effort against the Bills would be his third in a row. In the backfield, LaDainian Tomlinson scored his first rushing TD as a Jet last week and aims for a fourth straight game with at least one run of 20 yards. He's averaged 94.4 yards in five games against Buffalo. On the outside, embattled receiver Braylon Edwards was benched for the first quarter before hauling in a 67-yard scoring pass last week and boosting his season totals to eight catches and 141 yards. Tight end Dustin Keller continued his own emergence as well, and is second in the league among tight ends with three TDs.
Since holding Miami to just 15 points in the opener, Buffalo has proceeded to allow 34 and 38 in successive weeks against Green Bay and New England - plummeting to a division-worst 87 points surrendered overall. Injuries haven't helped, and no fewer than three players on the ball-stopping side are listed questionable, including linebacker Paul Posluszny (knee), linebacker Andra Davis (shoulder) and end Marcus Stroud (end). Posluszny was limited in practice Wednesday and both Davis and Stroud did not participate at all. Four players have racked up one sack apiece through three games, while Davis and safety Donte Whitner share the team lead with 21 tackles apiece. Overall, however, the Bills' defense sacked Sanchez five times in their last meeting - including a career-best two from tackle Kyle Williams, who had his first of 2010 last week. Cornerback Terrence McGee has five career INTs against New York.
WHEN THE BILLS HAVE THE BALL
The Orchard Park fans will see their inaugural game with Fitzpatrick as a clear No. 1, a week after he logged a 71.4 completion percentage against the Patriots. Expect him to lean heavily on a talented backfield, from which Marshawn Lynch has averaged 82.7 yards in his last three against New York. Against the Patriots, he led the team with 79 yards on 13 attempts. Also available is prized rookie C.J. Spiller, who scored twice last week and racked up 228 all-purpose yards - 189 on kick returns, 29 on the ground and 10 catching passes. Among traditional pass-catching targets, veteran Lee Evans has grabbed 45 balls for 726 yards (16.1 yards per catch) in his career against New York. Roscoe Parrish clicked with Fitzpatrick for 83 receiving yards against New England, the second-highest total of his career. Seven of Parrish's nine catches on the season have accounted for first downs.
And now for the bad news... even in the win over the Dolphins, the Jets were still torched through the air, allowing 10 catches and 166 yards to Brandon Marshall and a last-minute drive that saw the unit forced to hold Miami off four times inside the 20 to clinch the win. New York has surrendered an average of 336.3 yards per game overall - mitigating some of that total with a plus-6 turnover margin that's tied for first in the league. Among the individuals, linebacker Taylor announced his post-Dolphin presence with a first-quarter sack of Chad Henne, drawing boos from the Miami faithful. He has 20 career sacks against the Bills, his most against any foe. He's aiming for a third straight game with at least one. Linebacker David Harris has 2.5 sacks in his last four games against Buffalo and end Shaun Ellis had two sacks in his last go-round as well.
Though it has names at many spots, the Jets offense doesn't exactly provide a bumper fantasy crop. The re-emergence of Tomlinson has stripped some of Shonn Greene's value, and Edwards isn't a consistent enough threat to warrant full- time play. Keller may be the best bet on that side, while the defense is a surer bet against a mistake-prone (minus-3 turnover ratio) Buffalo unit. No names leap out for the Bills, though Spiller could be a hunch play with what's sure to be a variety of touches.
Somewhere, someone is using the phrase "trap game" in reference to New York coming off two big wins to play an inferior foe on the road. We won't go that route here, though the causes for such a mindset are clear. Still, a new old quarterback and some dynamic trinkets on offense have to face one of the league's perceived-best defenses, while Sanchez and friends figure to have an easier path toward their territory-seeking objectives on the other side. In the end, Rex and Co. sidestep the trap.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Jets 24, Bills 14
10/01 15:09:00 ET
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