On September 11, 1960, the Buffalo Bills travelled to the Polo Grounds in Manhattan to face the New York Titans.
It was the inaugural week for the newly created AFL, the third game in league history, the first ever loss for the Bills, and the start of a decades long rivalry.
Since that time, Buffalo and New York (the Jets since 1963) have met another 101 times, with Bills leading the all-time series 53-49.
However, coming into the start of the 2012 season, the Bills had dropped the last five, with their last win coming in 2009 when Ryan Fitzpatrick was brought in to relieve an injured Trent Edwards to lead Buffalo to an overtime comeback 16-13.
After a load of offseason hype in Western New York, including the signing of Mario Williams to the highest contract ever for a defensive player, Buffalo seemed poised to come out roaring in 2012, maybe even starting by ending their five-game skid to New York.
Meanwhile, the Jets were coming off a preseason where they didn’t score a touchdown in the first three games, only scoring one in the fourth, and that one was thrown by rookie quarterback Greg McElroy.
Add to that the locker room soap opera centering around Mark Sanchez that ended 2011, coupled with the uber-drama of bringing in Tim Tebow shortly thereafter, and you’d have thought the Jets were ripe for a loss.
Turns out, history just continued to repeat itself Sunday. as New York handed Buffalo the same result as their first meeting, a major beat down.
To start the 1960 season, the Titans beat Buffalo 27-3.
To start 2012, the Jets handed the Bills a 48-28 stomping.
So, to sum it all up, here are the five things we learned from the season opener and 103 meetings between New York and Buffalo (none of which are really all that much about Tebow, who was present, but not really much of a factor in the Jets victory).
1. Mark Sanchez is still the Jets' starting quarterback, no question.
In 2011, he took a step back for every step forward. Sanchez set career marks last season in yards (3,474) and TDs (26), but also set a personal record in sacks (39) and had 18 interceptions to boot.
The Jets lost their last three in a row (after two straight AFC Championship games) and Mark’s stat line over that span was spiraling downward, as he threw seven INTs to just five TDs, took 11 sacks, and perhaps lost the faith of the fans and the team.
What a difference a year makes.
Despite the headlines of the off season and the unspectacular preseason, Sanchez was brilliant in his home debut in 2012, even earning cheers from New York fans (following a round of boos they rained down on Tebow).
Every sign coming in pointed towards disaster for Sanchez, with some even predicting he’d be usurped by Tim before the game was out, but the Jets' starting quarterback stood unwaveringly and led his team to victory on a day he went 19-27 for 266 yds, three TDs, and a single INT (his bonehead play of the day, a disastrous shuffle pass).
Even with rotating Tebow in and out all day at random times, Sanchez showed no ill effects and never wavered in his rhythm. He led a total of seven scoring drives (five for touchdowns and two for field goals), looked confident and accurate the majority of the day, and seemed comfortable captaining a Jets team that also included Tim Tebow on the roster -- maybe even more so now that he doesn’t have to play the bad guy all the time and can actually be the hero in New York again (Tebow didn't do much impressing before the fickle home crowd).
The USC alum owned the Buffalo defensive backs all day, finding the gaps in coverage and burning the Bills over and over.
A surprise to be sure, but also an impressive reminder of the type of quarterback Sanchez can be when the pressure isn’t crushing him. Now that Tebow’s there to relieve some of the attention, Mark might just be ready to really lead this team.
2. C.J. Spiller was worth his first round pick in 2010.
When Fred Jackson went down in the second quarter of this game with what was later revealed as a bruised knee (he’ll have an MRI back in Buffalo to see the extent and though he walked off, it looked bad on replay), the Bills were already down 21-0 and figured their running game was kaput.
C.J. had shown no fire in the 2012 preseason, getting only 36 yds on 12 carries, adding a single reception for -5. When Jackson went down last year, Spiller had finally started showing some life, getting 478 yds the last six games, with three rushing TDs and another two receiving, as well as having a career day in yards with 111 against the Denver Tebows.
Sunday, Spiller beat that record with ease, emerging as the most promising sign on the entire Buffalo team. Following Jackson's exit, Spiller took his first run for -1, but exploded through tacklers for 56 yards and a score just two plays later (Buffalo’s first of the day).
Sure, the game may not have ever been close, but Spiller’s day was impressive none the less, as he finally looked like the first round pick he’s supposed to be.
CJ ended the day with 169 yards on 14 carries with a touchdown, taking two runs for over 50 yards and adding another 25 yards on two catches.
Spiller was breaking tackles and squirting through holes the the entire day, showing a great patience in waiting for plays to develop, coupled with a speed that just left defenders grasping at air.
On a day when Buffalo was desperately looking for positives to take away from their loss, Spiller was by far the most prominent of them. He was not only the best Bills player on the field, but was the undisputed best running back as well, showing up Jets' star Shonn Greene.
3. The Jets’ receiving corps is shockingly potent.
Rookie Stephen Hill: 5 rec, 89 yds, 2 TD
Second year receiver Jeremy Kerley: four rec, 45 yds, TD; 68-yard punt return for a TD
Seven-year veteran Santonio Holmes: four rec, 68 yds
When a quarterback has a great day, all the receivers feel the benefits, but regardless this is one surprisingly talented corps of wide outs.
Both Kerley and Hill were the true revelations, though, together accounting for 28 of the Jets 48 points on Sunday.
No matter what defense Bills coordinator Dave Wannstedt threw out at them, the Jets' young receivers found ways to get open.
Whether by being physical at the line or just juking the Bills' defensive backs out of their cleats, leaving them behind.
With the time Sanchez had up front, he was able to get through his reads and find the open man time and again, delivering strikes that these receivers took for all they were worth.
It didn’t matter where on the field the ball was caught, from short screens to cuts across the middle, the Jets' receivers were almost always able to make something out of it, catching balls whenever it was needed, most notably on third down (the Jets were a tidy 10-14 converting thirds).
Overall, the Jets had a total of 15 first downs by pass and saw some stars emerge in their group of young, unproven receivers. Hill, of course, set career marks in his first game, but Kerley had his first multi-score game, and the Jets found they have a pretty solid, talented passing game if, like today, they just can’t seem to get their run game going (though it was good enough to sell a boatload of play action plays and ended with a TD late by Greene).
4. Buffalo loves coughing up the ball.
This one’s a glaring problem for the Bills, as you just can’t win games when you lose the turnover battle this badly (4-1).
Fitzpatrick threw three interceptions before getting his game under control late (one a pick-6) and Spiller added a fumble late in the second quarter (turnovers have been an issue throughout his short NFL career). Total, those four turnovers led to 24 Jets points and that is where the game was lost.
Honestly, if you look at the stats for the game, this was the only real difference. Time of possession was marginal (Jets: 31:18, Bills: 28:42), total yards was a difference of six, and the Jets had just one more first down. Even the quarterback comparisons are pretty close if you discount the turnovers:
Fitzpatrick: 18-32, 195, 3 TD
Sanchez: 19-27, 266, 3 TD
True, Sanchez had another 71 yards, but Buffalo had an extra 77 yards rushing.
You just can’t commit that many mistakes and then expect you can come back for a victory. It was the most telling stat of the day about the state of the Buffalo offense and Fitzpatrick’s abilities at quarterback.
If Fitz plans to be the franchise arm moving forward for the Bills, he can’t have these types of days anymore (it was his fifth game with 3+ interceptions since coming to Buffalo, his sixteenth with 2+).
This should be the first thing adressed when the Bills get back to practice next week.
5. Buffalo may have overpaid for Super Mario.
After laying out a historic $100 million to tempt Mario Williams to Buffalo, you’d have thought he’d have wanted to show some thing in his first game in a Bills uniform.
Maybe show the ownership and the fan base that he was worth the investment.
If he was, it didn’t show on Sunday.
Super Mario was effectively shut down by third-year tackle Austin Howard, getting just one tackle all day and showing none of the disruptive power that Buffalo fans were hoping to see out of the highest paid defensive player in NFL history.
Sure, the Jets run game never really got any traction and that can largely be attributed to the play of the front four, but Sanchez had all the time in the world Sunday and it didn’t seem that Williams was getting too many double teams either.
As for the argument that having Super Mario on the field makes the rest of the front quartet better, well that didn’t work either. Marcell Dareus had just one tackle as well (the very first of the game, actually), Kyle Williams had just three, and Mark Anderson… was he even on the field?
All that expectation surrounding Williams just dissipated almost immediately, leaving many Buffalo fans wondering if he’s worth being the highest paid player on the team (seconded by Fitzpatrick, another pay check question mark after game one of the season).
What the story lines in this game are really showing is that the reports of the demise of the New York Jets may have been a bit premature, as are the expectations of seeing the Buffalo Bills in the playoffs come season’s end.
It may only be the first game of 2012, but it seems like things are no different between these two teams, as the New York win streak rose to six games over Buffalo, and the Bills are now last in the division again with their first AFC East loss.
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