But, gosh, 1981 looked so promising—a million-dollar rookie named Freeman McNeil to run the ball, and a new Todd working under a new offensive coordinator, Joe Walton, and the breathtakingly fast wide receiver tandem of Lam Jones and Wesley Walker. Where did it all go Sunday?
With 1:35 left in the first half the Jets were trailing 10-0, and their last four offensive series had been three downs and punt. Todd had thrown two passes, completed zero. Net passing yards, minus nine on one sack. Net everything yards, 41. McNeil had carried the ball once for one yard.
At this point the Jets gave up trying to establish a running game and Todd opened up. An interception by Buffalo Cornerback Charlie Romes ended that venture. Another one by the Bills' other cornerback, Mario Clark, cut off the Jets' first drive of the second half, and when Clark ran it back 45 yards to the Jets' 17, the rout was on.
The Jet defense had played pretty well in the first half, but now it cracked. Three Buffalo possessions in the third quarter, three TDs, and it was time to give the reserves a chance to earn their varsity letters. Buffalo Quarterback Joe Ferguson fired rockets all over the place. Nineteen yards to Wide Receiver Jerry Butler for the Bills' second touchdown, 31 yards to the other wide receiver, Frank Lewis, 46 more to Butler, who had a terrific day with six catches for 123 yards. The Jets were blowing coverages, coming over a step late, slipping on the artificial turf, which had been soaked by rain the previous day.
The Jets never got past midfield in the third quarter. The final yardage totals showed them 418-231 short enders. Their leading rusher was Todd with 32 yards. McNeil, caught in-the middle of a seven running-back shuffle, carried three times for 16 yards. No Jet runner carried more than four times. Lam Jones, the $1.6 million rookie of 1980, had three passes thrown to him. Zero receptions, one interception.
Are the Bills really that good? Did they crush a genuine contender, or are the Jets merely a rerun of last year's 4-12?
"We're not awesome; we won't overpower people with our personnel," Knox said afterward. "But we're tenacious. We play the same tough brand of football we played last year. We don't have great depth. Injuries can hurt us. But we're a hungry team, and when we play our game, we can be very nasty."
He paused for a moment. The Bills aren't a young team. Twenty of them have five or more years of NFL experience. Twelve of them are 30 or over. Knox has gradually brought in a group of oldtimers, including some rejects and four of his former Rams, to give his clubhouse a well-worn look. He has stuck with people who once were deemed uncoachable.
"Once, when I was on Weeb Ewbank's Jet staff in the early '60s," Knox says, "we were talking about one player who was a real coach's headache, and Weeb said something I'll never forget. He said, 'I have a feeling you just can't coach him, but if you want to be in the trained-seal business, go get a job in the zoo. Throw 'em a kipper and they'll clap their hands for you.' "
The soundness of Knox's ideas was reflected in the Bills' approach last year—a rather old-world mix of ball control and tough defense. But last Sunday the Bills showed a new dimension, which could lift them above the level of contender and into an early front-running Super Bowl position. They showed they could open up when they had to. They threw deep and they threw often. Ferguson completed 15 of 24 passes for two TDs and 254 yards, all the yardage coming in three quarters, and he says this might be a trend.