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Jets 20, Bills 17: Five things we learned

Buffalo’s margin for error in the division and the conference narrows as the team struggles

NFL: Buffalo Bills at New York Jets Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

The Buffalo Bills dropped a 20-17 decision on the road at the New York Jets on Sunday, falling to 6-2 overall and 0-2 in AFC East play.

The major storylines around this team remain largely unchanged: they are well-positioned in the AFC playoff race, will remain in first place in the division after this week, and still have wins over the conference’s other three division leaders. Despite how they’ve looked for the past game and a half, the team is still in an enviable position.

That said: man, they really have looked terrible since coming out of the halftime break in Week 8 against the Green Bay Packers, and there is plenty of cause for concern.

The Josh Allen slump is real

In his last six quarters of play, Josh Allen has completed 22-of-47 passes for 288 yards with zero touchdowns, four interceptions, and a quarterback rating of 31.2.

Allen is still making plays with his legs; his 86 rushing yards and two touchdowns on the ground kept the Bills within shouting distance of stealing a game they otherwise had no business winning.

Allen has gone through short stretches of terrible play several times, including during the past two-plus seasons of play in which he’s ascended to MVP contender. He’s squarely in one of those slumps now—and the Bills are going to struggle to win until he puts an end to the skid.

Bills can’t score in the second half

In their last two second halves—the first during last week’s 27-17 win over Green Bay, and the second during today’s loss—Buffalo’s offense has managed just six combined points. The Bills took a 24-7 lead into halftime against the Packers, only to manage a single field goal in a meager effort to close out that win. Similarly, Buffalo took a 14-10 lead into the half against the Jets—it was nearly a 17-10 lead, but for a close field goal miss from Tyler Bass on a 55-yard try—and once again could only manage a single field goal while watching the Jets run away with the win.

The overall play is of more concern, but the fact that two quality defenses—particularly in the secondary—have been able to adjust at halftime and then bottle up an offense that otherwise had stretches of competent play against them is still a significant development to monitor.

Jets game-winning drive a bad look for Bills’ run defense

The “stop the run and put the game in the hands of the young quarterback” playbook is tried and true. But Buffalo couldn’t manage to get the ball into second-year quarterback Zach Wilson’s hands on the Jets’ go-ahead drive in the fourth quarter.

On the Jets’ 14-play, 81-yard drive that ended in Greg Zuerlein’s game-winning field goal, Wilson attempted just one pass. (He would’ve attempted a second, but took a sack instead to keep the clock running and force the Bills to burn their third timeout.) It was a good pass—a 12-yard slant to Denzel Mims that converted a 3rd & 5, and capped off a very competent day throwing the ball for Wilson—but the overall theme of the drive was a huge issue. The Jets didn’t need to throw it, because Buffalo couldn’t stop the ground game.

Buffalo’s run defense has been a major concern all season, but particularly the last two weeks. On this drive, the Jets ran the ball 10 times for 78 yards. The first four runs of the drive went for 50 yards. The next three went for 22 more.

AFC East standings aren’t set in stone

The Bills are now 0-2 in division games this season (and 6-0 otherwise). In 2020 and 2021, when the Bills won back-to-back AFC East titles, the Bills were 11-1 in intra-divisional matchups. Buffalo will remain in first place in the AFC East heading into Week 10, but the entire rest of the division is right on their heels—the Jets and Miami Dolphins are both 6-3 with wins in hand on Buffalo, and the New England Patriots are 5-4 and only a game and a half out of first place themselves.

Buffalo plays their last four division games within the final six weeks of the season—three of them at home—so they have time to fix their issues and get healthy for another run at the division crown. But they are very much behind the eight-ball right now, and have a tight margin for error in pursuit of their third straight division crown.

AFC playoff picture shifts, but not a ton

Similarly, the Bills will not lose their hold on the No. 1 position in the AFC standings despite this loss. Someone will end up tied with them at 6-2—either the Kansas City Chiefs or the Tennessee Titans—but the Bills have already beaten both of those teams. They still very much control their own destiny as they attempt to ensure that the road to the Super Bowl runs through Orchard Park, NY.

But, again, the margin for error is shrinking quickly, and the Bills are playing poorly while it’s happening. They’ll need to figure things out as soon as possible if they’re going to maintain their current enviable positioning.