Without fans in the stands, the Jets and the Buffalo Bills apparently decided to do what they usually do — only bigger.
Behind by 21-3 entering the second half after a slow start, the Jets tried to break through in the third quarter, starting when wide receiver Jamison Crowder scored on a 69-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Sam Darnold. It was Crowder’s longest reception as a Jet. Later, running back Josh Adams pushed a touchdown over from the 2-yard line with about a minute left in the game.
But it wasn’t enough. The Jets lost their season opener on Sunday, 27-17, at Bills Stadium.
Starting slowly has become a defining feature for the Jets under Coach Adam Gase: They had a 1-7 record in the first half of last season, then came back to win six of their final eight games.
“It was about as bad of a start offensively as we could have had,” Gase said in a postgame call with reporters, adding that Darnold’s game was off.
“I put that on my shoulders,” he said. “I missed way too many throws today.”
The misses were significant, and it soon became clear that it was Bills quarterback Josh Allen’s game to lose. He passed for 312 yards and two touchdowns, and rushed for 57 yards and another touchdown.
Where Allen made his marks, Darnold could not. The two quarterbacks are often compared to each other because of their backgrounds, friendship and draft position. (Darnold was the second quarterback drafted, Allen the third, in 2018.) But Allen competed 33 of 46 pass attempts on Sunday to Darnold’s 21 of 35 for 215 yards, and it was clear which quarterback was a greater threat, at least on this day.
Even where Allen shined, he brought back an old habit with him: his tendency to fumble, with two in the first half. In the past two seasons, he fumbled 22 times in 28 regular-season games and twice in the team’s playoff loss to the Texans last year.
“I’ll need to work on that,” he said after the game.
Although it was a disappointing first game for the Jets, safety Marcus Maye came out strong, making two sacks, forcing a fumble and notching 10 tackles (seven solo); he also defended two passes. The Jets held the Bills to 6 points in the second half.
“We have to come out hot and fast, we can’t wait until things get tough to get going,” Maye said.
The Bills’ defense also held the Jets down, allowing them only 19 minutes with the ball.
Old tendencies from both teams contrasted with the new way of playing football amid the coronavirus pandemic. In the absence of fans, fan noise was replaced by high-volume cheers and boos at the Bills’ stadium in Orchard Park, N.Y. The sound-to-people ratio was especially jarring when the arena was practically empty for the national anthem and the song “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” with both teams remaining in the locker room.
The 2020 season will feature several protests: Both teams wore helmets with the names of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd among civil rights messages, including “Black Lives Matter.” The Jets canceled practices in solidarity with the walkout last month over the police shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man, in Kenosha, Wis., and are one of many teams considering escalating protests this season.
And it wouldn’t be a Jets game without adding two more injured players to their ranks: running back Le’Veon Bell and linebacker Blake Cashman. Bell, a three-time Pro Bowler and two-time All-Pro, was taken out with a hamstring injury in the third quarter, but not before six carries for 14 yards and two catches for 32 yards. He is hoping it’s his comeback season after a career-low 789 yards last year.
The Jets will try to identify the common mistakes and prevent them from happening in their next game, their home opener next Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers.
“Put your head down and grind,” wide receiver Breshad Perriman said.