EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. —
All those doubts, questions and concerns about Rex Ryan's Jets? Well, no worries, after all.
With a whole lot of Mark Sanchez, a sprinkling of Tim Tebow and a dominant first-half effort by the defense, New York manhandled the Buffalo Bills, routing their AFC East rivals 48-28 in the season opener Sunday.
Sanchez threw three touchdown passes, including two to rookie Stephen Hill, Jeremy Kerley had a touchdown catch and a punt return for a score, and Antonio Cromartie took one of New York's three interceptions of Ryan Fitzpatrick to the end zone.
That's from a team — labeled by some a "circus" for its penchant for offseason headlines — that had many wondering what to expect after the first-team offense failed to score a touchdown in the first three games of the preseason.
There were plenty of touchdowns in this one for the Jets, who set the franchise mark for most points in a season opener on Shonn Greene's late 1-yard scoring run.
Sanchez had the offense humming along so well, the fans at MetLife Stadium actually booed Tebow when he failed to gain a yard when he took a direct snap in the second quarter. The video board quickly flashed a sign: "Quiet! Offense At Work!"
Not everything went right, though, as the Jets allowed 195 yards rushing, including a career-high 169 by C.J. Spiller, and All-Pro cornerback Darrelle Revis left in the fourth quarter with a head injury.
Perhaps the only other thing that went wrong came early in the fourth quarter when Ryan took a tumble when Scott Chandler knocked into him on the sideline after a catch. Ryan went down to a knee and then laughed as he got up.
The game marked the highly anticipated debuts of Tebow, who worked in the wildcat a little bit and also recovered a late onside kick by Buffalo, and Bills defensive end Mario Williams — who was a non-factor against a Jets offensive line that protected Sanchez throughout and gave him plenty of time to throw.
Sanchez finished 19 of 27 for 266 yards and the three scores and an interception, and Tebow had five rushes for 11 yards and didn't throw a pass. Greene had 27 carries for 94 yards and the TD, and Hill had five catches for 89 yards.
Fitzpatrick was 18 of 32 for 195 yards and three touchdowns — to Chandler, Stevie Johnson, Donald Jones — and the three interceptions.
The Jets opened the game to loud cheers as both Sanchez and Tebow took the field, with the backup quarterback lined up as a slot receiver. The throw went to Hill, who couldn't handle the toss. Three plays later, Tebow took the snap with Sanchez lined up at wide receiver and handed to Joe McKnight for a 3-yard run.
With the offense moving along, Sanchez took off running and tried to shovel a pass to Jeff Cumberland, who had the ball tip off his hands and right to Bills linebacker Bryan Scott. The play was reviewed — and upheld — by officials after it appeared Scott might have stepped out of bounds.
But the Jets got the ball right back a few minutes later when Revis stepped in front of Fitzpatrick's pass intended for Johnson.
New York used its wildcat package a few times to get into the end zone on their next drive as Sanchez hit Kerley on a 12-yard pass for a touchdown — after the first team offense went the entire preseason without one.
The Jets' defense stepped up again a few minutes later, this time with Kyle Wilson picking off Fitzpatrick's pass intended for David Nelson.
Five plays later — right after Tebow gained 3 yards on a direct snap — Sanchez connected with Hill for a 33-yard score on the opening snap of the second quarter to put the Jets up 14-0. Sanchez pulled off a terrific pump fake, freezing rookie cornerback Stephon Gilmore for a brief moment, and giving Hill a chance to separate.
The Bills couldn't get much going on their next possession and weren't helped by the crew of replacement officials. On fourth-and-1 from its 29, Buffalo was called for a delay of game penalty after the officials took a while spotting the ball. SeveralBills players yelled at officials, to no avail, and it became fourth-and-6 from the 24.
Brian Moorman punted it 43 yards, and Kerley — zigzagging through tackle attempts — returned it 68 yards for a touchdown, putting New York up 21-0.
There was more bad news for the Bills on their next possession as Fred Jackson injured his right leg after a 7-yard run when he was tackled hard by LaRon Landry. Jackson stayed down for a few moments while he was checked by trainers before walking on his own to the sideline.
He walked around for a while before finally heading to the locker room, a towel draped over his head, with two trainers accompanying him.
Spiller replaced him and got the Bills on the scoreboard, zipping past a few missed tackles by Landry and Bart Scott and scooting into the end zone for a career-best 56-yard score.
Cromartie got the second half off to a good start for the Jets, intercepting Fitzpatrick's pass intended for Chandler and returning it 42 yards for a touchdown. Cromartie somersaulted into the end zone — but was not called for a penalty.
Hill got his second touchdown of the game early in the second half, catching a 17-yard toss from Sanchez to put the Jets up 40-7.
Chandler caught a 5-yard touchdown pass from Fitzpatrick late in the third quarter, cutting the deficit to 27. Donald Jones' 6-yard touchdown catch capped a 96-yard drive midway through the fourth that made it 41-21.
With the Jets' defense playing a bit sloppy, Johnson caught a 29-yard pass with just under 6 minutes left to get the Billswithin two touchdowns. But Buffalo's onside kick attempt went right into the hands of a waiting Tebow, and New York sealed the game on Greene's TD run.