Shocking? Yes. But it shouldn't be.
While watching Sunday's slate of football games, the still very blurry AFC East picture cleared up a bit. And it revealed that the Bills have supplanted the Jets as the biggest threat to the Patriots in the AFC East.
To give credit where it's due, the Jets have been to two consecutive AFC championship games, taking down the Pats in the process last season. It's an impressive feat and they've clearly played with a certain swagger since Rex Ryan took over as head coach in 2009.
But in order for the Jets to overcome that final hurdle, it seemed clear that third-year quarterback Mark Sanchez would need to make that quantum leap from game-manager to game-changer. And that hasn't happened.
Sanchez was efficient on Sunday against the Patriots, going 16-for-26 with two touchdowns and no interceptions, good for a 104.3 quarterback rating. But he only compiled 158 yards, a week after racking up a whopping — and yes, I use that term sarcastically — 112 yards against Baltimore.
Now, the past two seasons this might have been enough for the Jets to win games, as they've consistently featured one of the NFL's best defenses and an effective ground-and-pound approach. But this season, both the defense and the team's rushing attack have taken a step backward, and Sanchez has done little to negate the slide.
The Jets' defense has gone from ranked first in 2009, to third in 2010, to 12th so far in 2011. Their rushing attack has gone from ranked first in 2009, to fourth in 2010, to 30th so far in 2011. Shonn Greene's 3.3 yards per carry is the worst of his career, while LaDainian Tomlinson's 3.3 yards per carry matches the worst of his career.
At only five weeks in, it's obviously still too early in the season to completely write off the Jets. But it's a quarterback-driven league these days and Sanchez is stuck in the passenger's seat. This is concerning for a team with other — somewhat unexpected — problems.
Sanchez' 56.1 completion percentage is 27th among starting quarterbacks. His 6.77 yards per attempt is 21st in the league. His 1,171 yards is 16th. None of those nubers are five-year, $50 million material, nor will they do anything to compensate for the team's suddenly average rushing attack and less-feared defense.
The Bills, meanwhile, feature a quarterback who can make plays and take shots downfield in Ryan Fitzpatrick. They also feature the NFL's third-leading rusher, and perhaps most underrated player, in Fred Jackson.
The Bills put up 448 yards of total offense against the Patriots in their Week 3 upset. Fitzpatrick threw for 369. In Week 1, the Dolphins racked up 488 yards against the Pats, with Chad Henne tossing for 416.
The Jets' lackluster performance on Sunday resulted in only 255 yards of total offense against the struggling Pats D, marking the third-lowest offensive output of any team in the NFL for Week 5.
Buffalo's defense may be inferior to New York's. But the Bills' offensive potential allows them to compensate for it.
In a division that includes the 32nd-ranked Patriots' defense and 28th-ranked Dolphins' defense, that should be enough for them to remain competitive — more so than the Jets.
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