The Bills' running game responded in a big way in Sunday's 31-27 loss to the New York Jets. Running backs Marshawn Lynch and Fred Jackson gained 158 of a season high 187 yards on the ground against a vaunted Jets defensive line anchored by pro-bowl candidate nose tackle Kris Jenkins.
Jenkins and company held the Bills to just 30 yards rushing during the teams' first meeting in week nine and one had to wonder how the Bills' offensive line would respond the second time around.
The line held Jenkins to just two tackles and one quarterback hurry, a far cry from Jenkins' week nine performance when he made five tackles, two sacks, three quarterback hits and two tackles for loss en route to holding the Jets' 26-17 victory.
Bills guard Derrick Dockery said the offensive line knew the key to unleashing Lynch and Jackson would be to employ a series of double and even triple-teams to neutralize Jenkins, taking advantage of the uncovered guards created by the Jets' 3-4 scheme.
"We knew coming into this game whether it's double team, triple team, we made up our minds that if we could do what we did with Shaun Rogers," Dockery said referring to Buffalo's game earlier this season against Cleveland. "We can't let these guys in the middle beat us. Sometimes you've got to double and triple team them and not block them one-on-one. So we changed our schemes up. We did slides and some man-switching. We put a lot of our focus on him."
The two plays that epitomized the Bills' run efforts came with just under six minutes to play in the game. Lynch ripped off a nine-yard run to push the ball to New York's nine-yard-line before quarterback J.P. Losman handed the ball to Jackson for his second touchdown of the season.
Jackson, coming off a week in which he received no carries, received the handoff and ran off left tackle before colliding head-on with two Jets defenders around the five-yard-line. Wriggling sideways and keeping his legs pumping, Jackson received help from his teammates, who more or less willed Jackson into the end zone for the score that put the Bills up 27-24 with 5:39 remaining.
Teammates credited the offensive line and running backs on a determined effort that ultimately was for naught as Jets safety Abram Elam scooped up a J.P. Losman fumble and defensive end Shaun Ellis returned it for the game-winning 11-yard touchdown with two minutes remaining.
"Those guys deserve a win," Losman said of the offensive line. "They played hard. They were in there in the huddle grinding it. They want to run the ball, they voiced their opinion and coach gave them a shot and they responded with that type of attitude and that type of success, not just in the run game, but in the pass game too. They blocked their (expletive) off today and as a quarterback you tip your hat and say thanks and just wish I could have held onto the ball for everybody."
The success on the ground came just one week after the Lynch gained just 31 yards on 13 carries against Miami and three days after Lynch put most of the blame for the Bills' run struggles on himself and what he viewed as missed assignments. Since Buffalo's week seven win over San Diego, Lynch had only two 100-yard games (Miami and Kansas City) and scored just two rushing touchdowns as the Bills went 1-5.
Lynch answered any questions Sunday, running with a determined style that made it hard for Jets defenders to bring him down and put him in the Buffalo record books. Lynch constantly fought for extra yards after making contact with would-be tacklers.
He set the tone early, gaining his longest run of the day just 5:21 into the game when he took a handoff and ran around right end before being wrapped up Jets defenders. Keeping his legs pumping, Lynch sprung loose and found daylight up the sideline before being pushed out of bounds at the New York 22-yard-line after a 35-yard gain. Lynch's 127 yards made him just the third Bill (Joe Cribbs, Willis McGahee) to rush for 1,000 yards in each of his first two seasons with the team.
Bills guard Derrick Dockery said offensive coordinator Turk Schonert designed a run-first game plan, making it clear to the team its previous effort wouldn't be good enough against a defensive unit like the Jets.
"He said, 'Hey we're going to feed it to Marshawn and Fred and put it on you guys up front.' I think coming into the game we had a mindset where we knew 30 yards the previous game against the Jets wasn't going to cut it. If we had that same output in this game we would get embarrassed. I thought we did a great job up front bouncing back in this game."
Center Duke Preston said the Bills viewed the chance to match up with Jenkins and the Jets as a response to their past struggles but that the success up front didn't make the loss any easier to handle.
"Last week we didn't do much and the week before that we didn't do much," Preston said. "Up in Toronto we got our butts handed to us, so we had a score to settle and what better people and defense to do it against than Kris Jenkins and the Jets. It's frustrating earning it and leaving without it."