The Jets' offense sent Buffalo home with a defensive grocery list Sunday. On it are a host of positions to patch up thanks to another run of injuries, along with one goal for the rest of the season: improvement.
Although the offense misfired on more than its share of third down conversions, the defense didn't shirk blame in the 27-20 loss. Buffalo allowed four plays for 40 yards or more with the two longest going for touchdowns.
"Everyone is going after our secondary, and we just have to do a good job," said head coach Doug Marrone. "We were trying to change things up for (Geno Smith) coverage-wise...to try to keep the quarterback thinking, but when we bring the pressure and they block them all up, they go one-on-one. We just didn't make those plays."
Buffalo's secondary is a target thanks to its injuries, past and present. Jairus Byrd and Stephon Gilmore are still recovering from their respective injuries. On Sunday the defensive backfield also lost Leodis McKelvin, who injured his hamstring.
The defense also lost Marcell Dareus to an ankle injury and Alex Carrington sustained a knee injury. None of them returned to Sunday's game after exiting.
The McKelvin injury leaves Buffalo without their three top corners joining Gilmore and Ron Brooks on the injured list.
In addition to those injuries, Mario Williams spent time out of the lineup while he saw trainers on the sideline, but Marrone said the earliest injury in the game -- McKelvin in the first quarter -- hurt the team most in the long run.
"You have your two starting corners out, and Jairus (Byrd) is out for the game, you've got three good guys that aren't on the field," Marrone said. "Those other guys out there have done a good job, (but) at times they weren't able to make plays they made in the other two weeks."
McKelvin's injury forced changes as Aaron Williams moved from free safety to boundary corner. Jim Leonhard, who has seen time largely in Buffalo's three-safety nickel package, assumed Williams' free safety spot.
"There have been some times where I've forced myself to take some corner reps just in case a situation like this happens," Williams said of his substitution as cornerback. "I've just been trying to get the safety position down, but they didn't need me at safety so I did my best at corner."
Meanwhile Justin Rogers has had to step up for the cornerback corps in place of the recovering Gilmore. Unfortunately for Rogers he became rookie quarterback Geno Smith's favorite target. Smith threw both of his touchdowns against the three-year veteran to Stephen Hill and Santonio Holmes. The two wide receivers took advantage of a lapse in technique by Rogers.
"I have to turn my head around and make a play on the ball," Rogers said of the touchdown surrendered to Holmes. "You can't make a play on the ball if you don't turn your head around and I was obviously looking at him the whole time. So that was a technique mistake that I gave up."
Rogers had no pass defenses; Smith completed passes against him for roughly 270 of his 331 yards thrown on the day. He was also flagged for a 22-yard penalty for pass interference call.
Outside linebacker Manny Lawson said losing out on these plays lost this game for the Bills, but improvement will win matchups in the future.
"Football is a roller coaster. You have your highs and you have your lows and we did get turnovers and we did give up big plays," Lawson said. "We have to continue to make big plays and turnovers, but eliminate the big plays against us."
Buffalo didn't fail to score its own big plays. Jim Leonhard and Kiko Alonso netted two interceptions, and the defense walled up against a potential one-yard fourth down conversion at its own 37 yard line in the third quarter, stopping a Jets drive. Defenders held the Jets to a 36 percent third down efficiency.
"That's the frustrating part. We haven't reached our potential, but we're still in every game," said linebacker Arthur Moats. "It's positive and you feel good about that, but it's frustrating because we have to make those plays. "
Moats said the future of the team is in the hands of the players.
"When we start making those plays we'll start winning those games, but until then we're going to be a middle of the road team."