ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Sunday's meeting between struggling AFC East foes was a game of give-and-take. Through three quarters, the Bills did most of the giving, the Jets most of the taking. And that was enough to allow the Jets, thoughts of their difficult Monday night loss still spurring them on, to bend but not break down the stretch.
``I think it was very important to get a win today,'' coach Herman Edwards said after the Jets secured their not-as-close-as-the-score 42-36 victory over the Bills to climb back to .500 at 2-2. ``We're not clicking on all cylinders by any stretch of the imagination. But we're starting to work together as a team.''
And the first unit among equals was the Mo Lewis-led Jets defense, coming off of its 18 missed tackles and assignment errors in the 19-17 loss to San Francisco. It was a bounty of riches that the D extracted from the Bills' generous offense as they cashed four turnovers -- three in the game's first 11 1/2 minutes -- into touchdowns.
``No, no, no,'' Lewis said of whether, in his 11 Jets seasons, he had seen a defensive start like the Jets had in this game. ``Once you get 11 guys around the ball, things like that can happen.''
But Lewis also counseled for the Jets not to take too much out of the effort that produced the as-expected victory over the still winless Bills.
``I think the team is really going to have to look at this game and decide, did we improve on things or did the ball just bounce our way,'' he said. ``We can't look at this as if we've arrived. We have too many guys with too much ability. We got some big turnovers, but we've got to learn how to continue that mentality throughout the game.'' We'll get to the end of the game shortly. But the first of the Jets' takeaways, which came two plays after they allowed the Bills to recover Brian Moorman's surprising game-opening onsides kick.
``That gave us all a jolt,'' said defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell, after his first visit to Buffalo since leaving the Bills to join Edwards' staff this year. ``And we responded very positively. We got the turnover and that helped our offense.''
The first takeaway was end John Abraham's hit on running back Sammy Morris, which cornerback Marcus Coleman recovered at the Bills 49. In five plays, Curtis Martin began his best game in the Western New York woods since his rookie season with the Patriots in 1995, bursting over from 6 yards out. On the Bills' next drive, linebacker Marvin Jones intercepted a twice-tipped Rob Johnson pass and took it to the Bills 4. One play later, Vinny Testaverde swung a 4-yard scoring pass to Richie Anderson. It was 14-0 and the game wasn't four minutes old. Two Buffalo series later, Lewis sacked Johnson and forced a fumble that Abraham picked up and took 7 yards to the end zone. That made it 21-6.
``We put sevens on the board instead of kicking field goals,'' wide receiver Wayne Chrebet said. ``That's big after turnovers like that.'' From that foundation began the long (game time: 3 hours, 29 minutes) trek toward a close finish. Lewis actually may have started that process by KO-ing Johnson from behind with a forearm to the neck late in the first quarter. Johnson left the game with a pinched nerve, never to return. ``I'm running behind him, he's trying to slide, but he got caught in the turf or whatever, and it seemed like he popped back up,'' Lewis explained. ``I still had to touch him. It was one of those plays where we say, `Here we go again.' I don't want to see another player get hurt.''
That's just the way Ron Winter's officiating crew saw it, which is why no flag was thrown. Lewis could still be fined by the NFL this week for the hit, and he said, ``I'll leave it up to the office. I understand they're trying to protect the quarterback.'' ...``Mo Lewis is not a dirty player,'' Edwards said. ``He was just playing football. It was an accident, and accidents happen.'' Lewis, who rocked New England QB Drew Bledsoe so hard two weeks ago that Bledsoe suffered internal bleeding and still hasn't returned to action, said he asked officials if he had made a clean hit. No flag was thrown, and he didn't know if the NFL would fine him for the hit this week. ...Johnson didn't see it the same way. ...``I thought that's why you dive,'' he said. ``You give the guy a free shot by giving yourself up like that.'' About Edwards' ``accident'' quote, Johnson said, ``Yeah? Then let him slide and get an elbow in the back of the head.''
Regardless, backup Alex Van Pelt came in and looked more comfortable running the Bills' West Coast offense than Johnson had in three season-opening losses. Van Pelt kept the Bills in the game with some nifty footwork and accurate throws, completing 23 of 41 for 268 yards, three touchdowns, one interception and one sack. What the Jets needed was some input from their own under-fire version of the West Coast. And they got it from Martin's two touchdowns and 135 rushing yards on 26 carries and from timely passing from Testaverde (15-for-25, 173 yards, two TD passes).
``Everybody was talking negative'' after the Niners loss, said Testaverde, who remains the only NFL starting QB not to have thrown a pick this season. ``Sometimes that weighs on your mind. I felt it was important we came out and played well, and I think we did that. It shows you this offense works.'' Well, let's say it held up its end of the bargain, producing 335 yards, 21 first downs and three TDs to match the defense's scoring trifecta. Each unit contributed to the deciding third-quarter scores. First tight end Anthony Becht completed his rebound from his own Monday misery by making a diving catch for a 2-yard TD.
``Vinny stretched me out, and the linebacker was grabbing the heck out of me,'' said Becht, who also had a Mark Bavaro-like 17-yard reception earlier. ``I tried to do everything I could to pull that thing in. At the end it paid off, and I'm glad.'' Lewis added the fifth touchdown of his career and his first fumble-return TD when James Farrior shook the ball loose from running back Larry Centers after a swing pass. Then came the fourth quarter, which left Lewis, Cottrell, Edwards and others just a little concerned. Van Pelt led the Bills to two Centers TDs, the final one coming with seven seconds to go. But punter Brian Moorman's second onsides kick wasn't as successful as the first as Matthew Hatchette covered the one-hopper and the Jets had broken the Bills' streak of five wins in the last six games at Ralph Wilson.
``For me, it was like we broke a hex or a curse,'' Martin said. ``The Bills had my number, they had our number, since I've been with the Jets. Today it was a good day for us.''