Seasoned Bills fans know what it’s like to wait for the arrival of a true franchise quarterback, and how you can fall victim to blind, foolhardy hope along the way.
The Bills had their moments with J.P. Losman, Trent Edwards, Ryan Fitzpatrick and EJ Manuel, brief stretches of winning play that led desperate fans to believe they’d finally found the guy.
That’s how it feels right now with the Jets, who recently won four in a row with second-year quarterback Zach Wilson, leading impressionable fans and NFL watchers to wonder if the sorry franchise in the Meadowlands should be taken seriously as a playoff contender.
Again, Buffalo fans know the feeling. It’s one thing to hang around .500 and be on the fringes of the playoffs into November, quite another to be a legitimate contender. Any notion of the Jets as a real threat rang hollow on Sunday when they stumbled to a 22-17 home loss to the Patriots.
Wilson, the second overall pick in the 2021 draft, was dreadful. He looked like a rank rookie, and we know how those QBs fare against Bill Belichick. He was 20-for-41 passing for 355 yards — with 150 of those yards coming during garbage time in the final 10:35 of the contest.
The Pats, who beat the Jets for the 13th straight time, intercepted Wilson three times. Two of them were brutal throws. Playing without injured rookie running back Breece Hall and top offensive lineman Alijah Vera-Tucker, the Jets managed just 51 yards rushing on 15 tries.
The Jets have a playoff-caliber defense, led by four-time Pro Bowl linebacker C.J. Mosley. They allowed just 14.0 points in their four-game winning streak. They’re second in the NFL in yards per play against (4.7), second in yards per rush (3.8) and fourth in adjusted yards per pass (5.5). They’re tied for fourth in interceptions with nine (the Bills lead the league with 11 picks).
During that four-game winning streak, Wilson threw just one touchdown pass. They were winning despite him, not because of him. It was reminiscent of Mark Sanchez as a limited novice quarterback in the Rex Ryan days, when the Jets won with defense and a strong running game.
There’s growing sentiment among long-suffering Jets fans that Wilson simply isn’t the answer. Having been burned by Sam Darnold — the third overall pick in 2018 — they’re not in a patient mood. The head coach, Robert Saleh, admitted the team needs more.
“He’s got to play better,” said Robert Saleh. “We’ve got to find ways to help him. We’ve just got to rally around him.”
Mosley chimed in his support for Wilson, assuring critics that “Everybody in the building has got his back.”
That belief isn’t shared by the oddsmakers, who installed the Bills as a 13.5-point favorite for Sunday’s meeting at MetLife Stadium. That’s a stunning line for a 5-3 home team. But it’s no more surprising than the Bills being a two-touchdown ‘dog against Tom Brady during the drought.
The Bills’ defense leads the NFL in fewest point allowed and has been the league’s top pass D since Sean McDermott and Leslie Frazier came to town. They’ve shut down Matthew Stafford, Lamar Jackson and Aaron Rodgers. Wilson is in deep, though he remains optimistic.
“Regardless of what it looks like, I feel like each game I’m learning and getting better,” Wilson said after the loss to New England. “There’s always plays I’m going to want back. Always things that happen and you wonder, ‘why did I just do that?’ It’s part of football.”
Wilson is completing 54.9 percent of his passes for 1,048 yards, with three TD passes and five interceptions. He’s currently 34th in the NFL in completion percentage and quarterback rating, 31st in interception percentage, 28th in overall passing yards.
Those are troubling stats, but Wilson did miss the start of this season after suffering a knee injury in preseason. He has started only 18 games in his young career. His numbers are similar to Josh Allen at the same point in his career. It can take time for a franchise QB to develop.
As Bills fans can attest, it can take a lot longer than you hoped.
Titans blowout reflects well on Buffalo
Chances are, the Titans’ Derrick Henry would tell you there’s no problem with the Bills’ run defense.
Henry rushed for just 25 yards on 13 carries in Tennessee’s 41-7 loss at the Bills on Monday night in September. In five games since then, he has gained 648 yards, or 130 yards a game. On Sunday, he exploded for 219 yards and two TDs in a 17-10 win over the Texans.
It was Henry’s fourth straight 200-yard game against Houston. It was the sixth 200-yard rushing day of his career, tying him with O.J. Simpson and Adrian Peterson for the most 200-yard rushing days in a career. Simpson had his six with the Bills, three in his historic 2,003-yard season in 1973.
Henry has rushed for at least two touchdowns in all six of those 200-yard days against Houston. No other player in NFL history has more than three such games. Jim Brown, Barry Sanders and LaDainian Tomlinson each had three games of 200 yards rushing and two TDs in their career.
Incidentally, the Titans have won five games in a row since that blowout loss at the Bills on Sept. 19, allowing only 15.2 points a game. It says something about the Bills that a team could look so inept against Buffalo and run off five in a row to take a commanding lead in the AFC South.
Tennessee rushed for 314 yards against the Texans, becoming the first team since the 2000 Bengals to rush for 300 yards and throw for 40 or fewer yards in a single game (rookie Malik Willis had 55 yards passing). Cincinnati’s Corey Dillon broke the single-game rushing record that day with 278 yards. It was later broken by Peterson, who had 296 for the Vikings against the Chargers in 2007.
Von Miller: No issue with GB celebrations
The Packers’ defenders caused some resentment among some fans and media when they ran into the end zone to celebrate an interception against Josh Allen when they were trailing by 17 points against the Bills on Sunday night.
Von Miller, who has been around the block a few times in a 12-year NFL career, didn’t see any problem with the opponent celebrating while getting its butt kicked.
“That’s what you do when you get an interception,” said the superstar defensive end.
I told Miller that crusty old types still find it outrageous for athletes to celebrate when they’re losing, and it would be nice to know how the players actually felt about it.
“No. In today’s game, that’s what you do,” he said. “Whenever you get a turnover, you run to the end zone and you take pictures and pose. It’s so tough to get turnovers, no matter what the score is. It is a very hard league, a very hard sport. So, whenever you have success, that’s what you do.
“You never know. That could be the catalyst that turns the game around.”
It can also cost you a game.
With 12 seconds to play on Sunday, Carolina wideout D.J. Moore caught a 62-yard Hail Mary touchdown pass from P.J. Walker to tie the Falcons, 34-34. Moore ripped off his helmet in celebration, necessitating a penalty for excessive celebration under the NFL rules.
That tacked an extra 15 yards onto the ensuing extra point, which could have won the game for the Panthers. The additional yardage forced kicker Eddy Pineiro to boot the extra point from 48 yards, instead of 33. He missed. Atlanta won in overtime, 37-34.
Is he Owned?
This week’s featured fantasy find is Falcons running back Caleb Huntley, who had 16 carries for 91 yards in Atlanta’s overtime victory over the Carolina Panthers on Sunday.
Huntley, a 5-10, 229-pound Atlanta native, went undrafted out of Ball State in 2021. He spent all of last season on the Falcons’ practice squad. He was waived this past August but brought back to the practice squad. He had 56 yards and his first career TD in a win over the Browns in Week 4.
As a freshman at Ball State in 2017, he became the second frosh in school history to rush for 1,000 yards after Bernie Parmalee. UB fans might recall him rushing for 141 yards against the Bulls that season in a 40-24 Buffalo win.
Playing time opened up when Atlanta’s top back, Cordarrelle Patterson, went out with a knee injury. Patterson is eligible to return in Week 9. But if he’s still sidelined, Huntley would be a nice play as a second back or flex against a Chargers defense allowing a league-worst 5.7 yards a carry.
Huntley, who has 57 carries for 265 yards in his rookie season (4.6) is available in 94.5 percent of ESPN leagues.
- I’m still not sold on Tua Tagovailoa, but Dolphins fans might believe they’ve found their franchise QB. Miami hasn’t lost a game this year that Tua started and finished. He went 29 of 36 passing for 382 yards and three TDs in Miami’s 31-27 win over the Lions. He’s leading the NFL in yards per attempt (9.0) and passer rating (112.7). Allen is second in y/a (8.3) and fourth in rating (105.9).
- The Eagles’ Jalen Hurts is second in yards per pass attempt (8.5) after throwing for 285 yards on 28 throws in a 35-13 win over the Steelers. Hurts threw four TD passes of 25 yards or more, three to A.J. Brown. Since 1980, only Dan Marino has more than four 25-plus TD passes in a game. Marino did it in 1994 against the Pats. Hurts won his 10th straight QB start, an Eagles record.
- The Pats’ victory over the Jets gave Bill Belichick 325 wins as a head coach, counting playoffs, moving him past legendary Bears head man George Halas for second all-time. Don Shula is first with 347 victories. Bills fans will be pleased to know that the Hoodie now has 36 of those wins against the Jets — the same number he has amassed over Buffalo. He has 26 against Miami.
- Miami wideout Tyreek Hill leads the league with 961 yards in receptions through eight games. Oddly, he has 715 of those yards in even-numbered games. Hill had 190 yards in Week 2 against the Ravens; 160 in Week 4 vs. the Bengals; 177 in Week 6 against the Vikings; and 188 in Week 8 against the Lions. Look out for the guy two weeks from now against the Browns.
- The Raiders’ 24-0 loss at the Saints was the first time they’ve been shut out since 2014 … The Lions, who led the Dolphins at half, 27-17, have been outscored, 48-0, in the second half of their last three games … The Patriots haven’t scored a TD in the first quarter this season; the Eagles have scored 126 points in the second quarter … Gabriel Davis of the Bills leads the league in average yards per catch at 26.1. The Pats’ DeVante Parker is second at 21.4 per grab.
Jerry Sullivan is an award-winning journalist who joined the News 4 team in 2020 after three decades as a sports columnist at The Buffalo News. See more of his work here.