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Favre, Jets prove worth in competitive AFC East with win at Buffalo

Carucci_small.JPGBy Vic Carucci | NFL.com

Senior Columnist

K_Coleman_081102_WIDE.jpg Don Heupel / Associated PressThe Jets made the Bills work for anything on the ground, limiting Buffalo to 30 yards rushing.

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- For the first time in 18 NFL seasons, Brett Favre played a game here that felt a lot like the ones he used to play in places such as Chicago, Minnesota and Detroit.

It felt as if there was a little more on the line, as if the prize was a bit larger than a regular-season win.

The difference? In three previous visits to Ralph Wilson Stadium, Favre was a Packer and the Bills represented a non-divisional opponent. On Sunday, the Bills represented a team that Favre's new employer, the Jets, absolutely had to beat if they intend to have anything to say about who wins the AFC East.

B_Favre_081102_IA.jpg Rick Stewart / Getty ImagesAlthough Brett Favre has put up solid numbers in his three previous trips to Ralph Wilson Stadium, Sunday marked the first time he came away with a victory on the road against the Bills.Favre's career at Ralph Wilson StadiumYearYardsTDs/INTsResult20082010/1Win20062871/2Loss20002692/0Loss19942143/1Loss

And this is a year when it's possible for a team not called the Patriots to have something significant to say about which team ends up with the division crown. After their 26-17 victory over Buffalo, the Jets certainly are in position to do so. At 5-3, they're tied with the Bills and Patriots and one game ahead of the last-place Dolphins.

"Not that winning wasn't important," Favre said of the semi-indifference he felt after losing three previous games here with Green Bay. "But it just carried a different meaning today. I don't want to say it felt like there was added pressure, added burden, whatever.

"But in some respects it was."

In many respects, actually.

The Jets entered the game with losses in two of their previous five outings, including a blowout at San Diego in Week 3 and a miserable showing at Oakland in Week 7. Then there was the scare they received at home last week from the lowly Kansas City Chiefs. Favre had some pressure of his own to bear. He entered the game having thrown seven interceptions in his three previous outings and an NFL-leading 11 picks.

Favre and the Jets needed to make something good happen against the Bills if they were to be taken seriously for the balance of the season. They did.

Now, all of a sudden, the AFC East story doesn't begin and end with the Patriots. Since 2003, New England has run away with the division. Without Tom Brady, they have become at least vulnerable enough for the other three teams -- and yes, that includes the Dolphins -- to challenge.

The last time the AFC East looked so balanced was in 2002, when three teams finished 9-7 and the fourth was 8-8.

"I think it's an incredibly tough division," Jets coach Eric Mangini said. "I think all of the teams we play are well-coached, they've all got weapons in multiple areas, so whenever you're playing any of our division opponents, it's a challenge. And it's a challenge especially on the road."

Playing at Ralph Wilson Stadium figured to be especially daunting for the Jets for several reasons. One, it is never an easy place for an opponent to play; the Bills had been 3-0 here this season. Two, after their Week 8 loss at Miami, the Bills seemingly had plenty of motivation for a bounce-back performance. Three, the Bills had started the season looking like not only the best team in the AFC East but one of the very best in the NFL.

Yet, in the last month, some glaring flaws have been exposed.

The Bills are not getting enough pressure on the quarterback. Opponents are repeatedly having success with a passing formula that calls for short drops and quick throws to receivers who consistently find plenty of running room within the soft underbelly of their Cover Two scheme.

It worked for Kurt Warner in the Cardinals' lopsided win at Arizona. It worked for the Dolphins' Chad Pennington a week ago. It worked for Favre, although he made the Jets' only serious mistake by throwing a terrible pass that Jabari Greer intercepted and returned for a touchdown.

The Bills are not doing a good enough job of protecting Trent Edwards or blocking for the run. Edwards was sacked five times Sunday and is taking far too many hits. He's causing some of his pressure problems by holding the ball too long. He also has gone from a highly efficient passer to a mistake-prone kid who no longer looks more grownup than his second-year status and baby face suggest. Edwards threw two interceptions and lost a fumble against the Jets, giving him five turnovers in the last two weeks.

Otherwise, the Jets demonstrated that they have the necessary ingredients to continue to make the division interesting. They certainly have a strong enough defense, now that 360-pound tackle Kris Jenkins -- acquired in a trade with Carolina -- resides in the middle of their line.

Jenkins, who sacked Edwards twice, dominated the middle of the Bills' offensive line like a man stepping through children.


Sunday, Nov. 2

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