ORCHARD PARK — If the 2018 Jets season were a horse, you’d shoot it to put it out of its misery.
This season has devolved into a nowhere team playing out the string with a coach they know is going to get fired. The feeling inside the team right now is one of looking forward to the end of this miserable year.
But the NFL has a 16-game schedule, and the Jets still have four games remaining, starting with Sunday’s game against the Bills. It is an AFC East showdown only the diehards could love — a 3-9 Jets team taking on a 4-8 Bills team with nothing but pride and draft position on the line.
The Jets have lost six in a row and already are mathematically eliminated from playoff contention.
“At this point, it’s whatever motivates you personally,” wide receiver Jermaine Kearse said. “You’ve just got to use that.”
Some players said they are motivated by what the Bills did to them a month ago at MetLife Stadium, when Matt Barkley picked them apart in a 41-10 butt-kicking.
“It’s very personal,” linebacker Avery Williamson said. “They put up a lot of points. It was an embarrassment.”
Other Jets rolled their eyes at the idea of revenge, saying that does not exist in the NFL.
For fans, the only reason to watch this game might be the matchup at quarterback. Rookie Sam Darnold will be back under center after missing three games, and the Bills have their first-round pick Josh Allen back after he missed the first meeting between the teams. Darnold-Allen could be a staple of the AFC East for years to come. This is Round 1.
Allen missed four games with an elbow injury and has played well in his two games since returning. The Jets hope that sitting and watching for the past three games can help Darnold, who regressed before suffering a right foot sprain, in the same way.
“There’s nothing like game experience, nothing like getting out there and playing and experiencing those reps live,” Darnold said. “But at the same time watching a guy like Josh [McCown] play and watching him go about practice and walk-through like I had mentioned a couple of weeks ago. It’s amazing.”
Darnold’s return feels like the only interesting thing about this game, but it will also be telling to see how the Jets play. Will they roll over after that brutal defeat in Tennessee?
“It’s not fun. I’ve been through [losing seasons],” Williamson said. “You do learn things. You learn what type of person you are. It gets revealed. You’re either going to give up or you’re going to keep on fighting.”
Bills QB Josh Allen vs. Jets linebackers
Everyone knew about Allen’s arm strength coming out of Wyoming last year, but it has been his foot speed that has turned heads recently. Allen has rushed for 234 yards and one touchdown combined in the past two games. Last week, he had 135 in the loss to the Dolphins.
The Jets have struggled this year against scrambling quarterbacks. Mitchell Trubisky and Marcus Mariota both broke off long runs at crucial times. It is going to be on the linebacking corps to not let Allen get out of the pocket and beat them with his legs.
“Well, the thing is, you’ve got to rush him, you got to rush him smart,” Jets defensive coordinator Kacy Rodgers said. “Not let him out of the pocket but then you can’t leave him. Sometimes when you say contain the quarterback they don’t really rush, they work to keep him in the pocket, then you get receivers running all over the place. So, it’s a fine line between trying to pressure, keep him in there, it’s kind of a juggling act.”
Buffa-no: The Bills’ defense has been stingy this season. The unit ranks second overall in total defense, allowing 294.2 yards. They have a strong front seven and a good secondary. Their average of 24.4 points allowed is eighth in the league.
They are particularly strong against the pass, averaging 187.2 yards against, the best mark in the league. Over their past four games, they have held their opponents under 130 yards in each game, the longest such streak in the NFL since 2009.
This is not what a struggling Jets offense needs to see. No one is hitting big plays on them. They have given up just one pass play of 40 yards or more. It feels like the Jets allow at least one of those every week.
“They don’t allow big plays,” Jets offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates said. “They’re extremely sound, they’re aggressive, they’re strong, they’re fast. You name it, they do a good job. It’s going to be a big challenge.”
Allergic to the end zone: The Jets need a GPS to find their way across the goal line these days. They have scored just three offensive touchdowns in their past five games. Last week, they settled for five field goals against the Titans and it came back to bite them.
“It’s a big concern obviously when you’re not scoring a lot of points,” coach Todd Bowles said. “We’re grinding at it, we’re working at, it’s not one area, it’s not one guy, it’s not one thing. Whether it’s a coach or a player, we got to get the ball in the end zone in order for us to win ball games.”
Division F-Oh: The Jets are 0-for-the AFC East this season. They enter this game 0-4 with just two more chances to get a division win. The last time they went winless in the division was in 1996, when they went 0-8 in the old AFC East as part of a 1-15 season. It is never a good thing when any Jets season gets compared to 1996.
The Jets have this game with the Bills and the season finale at New England to notch a win inside the division. Winning in New England is going to be Mission Impossible, so Sunday’s game at Buffalo represents their best shot at getting that divisional win.
Brrrr-falo: The high temperature is forecast to be 33 degrees on Sunday. It is probably going to feel like negative 33 to Sam Darnold, who has never played in a game that cold growing up and going to college in Southern California. Darnold practiced with short sleeves on this week and wore a wetsuit under his practice uniform. It will be interesting to see how much the cold affects him in the game.
This is a matchup of two terrible teams going nowhere. The Bills smacked the Jets around last month, but I think this one will be closer. Sam Darnold looks rusty and throws a costly late interception.
Bills 23, Jets 17
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