A year after being fired by the Jets and taking over in Buffalo, Ryan got his revenge by thwarting the Jets’ hopes of making the playoffs for the first time since 2010. Ryan’s high-priced and much-criticized defence closed the game by intercepting Ryan Fitzpatrick on each of New York’s final three possessions in a season-ending 22-17 win Sunday.
The Jets (10-6) needed a win to clinch a post-season berth. And they were eliminated from contention shortly after the final whistle blew in Buffalo, when the Pittsburgh Steelers (10-6) advanced with a 28-12 win at Cleveland.
"It’s the hardest and most difficult end to a season I have ever had," Fitzpatrick said. "There’s not a whole lot of talking in there right now. It’s hard to come up with words."
Fitzpatrick’s collapse came in his first return to Buffalo, and some three years after he was cut by the Bills.
"I’m a little numb right now," said receiver Brandon Marshall. "I have no emotion. Just get on the bus and reflect a little bit."
Fitzpatrick has failed to make the playoffs in 11 seasons, and Marshall has not advanced in his 10 seasons.
It was a stunning outcome for the Jets, who had won five straight and faced an injury-depleted Bills (8-8) team that had already been eliminated from contention for a 16th consecutive season — the NFL’s longest active drought.
Fitzpatrick started the fourth quarter having his 14-yard pass intended for Eric Decker in the end zone intercepted by Leodis McKelvin. Then, on the first snap following the 2-minute warning, Fitzpatrick was hit by Marcell Dareus just as he got the ball off. The pass was underthrown and easily intercepted by Manny Lawson.
The game was decided when Fitzpatrick’s side-arm pass over the middle was intercepted by linebacker A.J. Tarpley with 11 seconds remaining.
Fitzpatrick, scheduled to be a free agent this off-season, finished 16 of 37 for 181 yards and touchdown passes — setting a franchise record with 31 this season — to his two favourite receivers: Decker and Marshall.
It was a sweet finish for Ryan, who walked onto the field and raised his hands to the sky forming a "V" for victory. The Bills swept the season series against their AFC East rivals with both wins decided by the exact same score.
Ryan couldn’t help but crow. He was stung a year ago when the Jets fired him after six seasons. And Ryan had grown irritable over the past few weeks after having his job security questioned and criticized for a defence that had underperformed for much of this year.
"I’ve got a lot of friends over there, and I want them to be successful, but not at my expense," Ryan said.
He then took a shot at his critics after Buffalo limited the Jets to 300 yards of offence.
"You guys know me, I’ve got a horrible resume as a defensive coach," Ryan said, referring to reporters. "You try to point it out all the time. But the facts don’t back you up a whole lot."
Trouble is, the defence’s inconsistencies were one of the key reasons the Bills missed the playoffs.
Buffalo gave up a franchise-high 466 yards passing in a 40-32 loss to New England in Week 2. A year after leading the NFL with 54 sacks, the Bills managed just 21, the fewest in a 16-game season in team history.
Buffalo won despite an injury-depleted lineup. The Bills opened the game minus numerous starters — including running back LeSean McCoy — and then finished without starting cornerback Ronald Darby (groin) and running back Karlos Williams, who didn’t return after hurting a knee while scoring on a 2-yard run.
Tyrod Taylor went 18 of 28 for 182 yards passing, and also scored on an 18-yard run in a game the Bills never trailed.
The Jets offence managed just 9 yards on its first four possessions, finished with 300 yards and converted just three of 11 third-down attempts. The defence held the Bills in check in allowing just 297 yards offence, but couldn’t get Buffalo off the field.
The Bills converted nine of 20 third-down opportunities and dominated the time of possession by nearly 19 minutes.
NOTES: Jets DE Muhammad Wilkerson broke his right leg and likely needs surgery. … DE Mario Williams had a sack in what was expected to be his final game for the Bills. … Marshall led the Jets with eight catches for 126 yards, and Decker added five catches for 50 yards. The pair scored a touchdown in the same game for an NFL-record ninth time this season.