ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — Shouts of jubilation followed as they sauntered off the field, into a tunnel and inside the visitors’ locker room at Ralph Wilson Stadium on Sunday. Their hollering had nothing to do with the first-place team they had just vanquished. It had everything to do with the first-place team they will play next week.
When the final second of the Jets’ 27-11 destruction of the ticked off the clock, they did not celebrate so much as refocus. It would be imprecise to say that the Jets were merely peeking ahead to their showdown against New England at MetLife Stadium, a rematch that termed “a divisional championship game.” The Jets can see clear to first place after the Patriots lost to the Giants on Sunday, creating a three-way tie with the Jets and the Bills at 5-3 atop the A.F.C. East.
“If this is our time to take over and win the A.F.C East, then this is the time to do it,” LaDainian Tomlinson said. “This is the week it has to happen.”
In the world of the Jets, all things are possible, even a division title, even the home playoff game that has eluded them the last two seasons. That notion seemed pure fantasy a month ago, amid a three-game losing streak that threatened to splinter the team. Late Sunday afternoon, after his offense scored on four consecutive second-half drives, after his defense bullied the dangerous running back Fred Jackson, after his team won its third consecutive game, Coach marched into a locker room that had roiled with frustration.
“We know who we’ve got next,” Ryan told his players.
Yes, they do. They screamed, “Here we go” and “Let’s go. Patriots,” not even bothering to savor their accomplishment Sunday. When they did reflect, the Jets praised their blueprint for victory, which silenced the upstart Bills and their raucous fans.
On Sunday, the Jets controlled the clock with crisp runs and sharp passes. They forced three turnovers and did not allow a touchdown until late in the fourth quarter, or, as David Harris said, “when the game was over.” And they bottled up Jackson, who had led the A.F.C. in yards from scrimmage.
“We put ourselves in position for success now,” D’Brickashaw Ferguson said. “Everything we wanted is right there.”
As much as they respected quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, the Jets felt that the Bills’ offense, which had averaged 31 points a game, went through Jackson. They vowed to set the edge against him, to funnel him inside, and to finish their tackles with conviction. They did all of the above, forcing Fitzpatrick to throw into the strength of the Jets’ defense, the secondary.
“We knew they were a big-play offense,” Bart Scott said. “But we never let them swing momentum to get back in that game.”
Scott helped shackle Jackson on two pivotal plays, including stopping him on a fourth-and-1 at the Jets’ 16 early in the fourth quarter. By then, the Jets were leading, 20-3. When Scott and Sione Pouha turned the game by forcing a Jackson fumble five minutes into the third quarter, the Jets were clinging to a 6-point advantage. Jim Leonhard recovered the ball at the Bills’ 19.
Three plays later, Tomlinson scored from a yard out. On their next possession, a 43-yard pass-interference penalty by Leodis McKelvin on Santonio Holmes set up an 8-yard score to Holmes.
“That’s the type of football Rex wants,” guard Matt Slauson said. “That’s the type of football that we’re best at.”
Coming off their bye week, the Jets were haunted by their past failures, listless losses the past two seasons. Asked about the team’s attitude heading into Sunday, Pouha said, “Our whole attitude is don’t tell us what we can’t do.”
Without defensive tackles Mike DeVito and Kenrick Ellis, the Jets thwarted the Bills’ rushing game.
With the offense moonwalking in the first half, shuffling backward even as it glided forward, the Jets rebounded, though it took a while. A masterpiece of an opening drive — 15 plays, 133 yards after penalties, in 10 minutes 9 seconds — stalled on a Sanchez interception in the end zone, a wayward pass that prompted a discussion with the offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer. Six penalties stunted their momentum. Once, they had 12 men on the field.
If not for a shrewd challenge that reversed a diving interception by George Wilson, the Jets would have failed to score twice in their first three possessions when deep in Bills territory.
“We looked like the Bad News Bears,” Ryan said.
By the end of the day, though, Sanchez evoked a different movie — “The Karate Kid.” His precision — 20 of 28 passes for 230 yards and the touchdown to Holmes — obscured the red-zone interception and a lost fumble. His ball security was better when making handoffs.
After giving the ball to John Conner, who plunged into the end zone for the Jets’ third touchdown of the second half, Sanchez stood at the Buffalo 5 and turned toward the crowd, or what was left of it, sitting behind the east end zone. He lifted his left leg and sliced the air with a drop kick, symbolically booting aside the Bills.
Buffalo’s furry blue mascot, Billy Buffalo, moped behind a goal post, his head down in despair. Up next, Pat Patriot?
“Right now,” Scott said. “I can’t wait to get back.”