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Pollock column: A new look for the AFC East

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A column by CHUCK POLLOCK

All it took was the NFL’s opening week to change the look of the AFC’s strongest division.

With the Bills’ inexcusable loss to the Jets Monday night at MetLife Stadium, the East standings look like this: Miami and New York, 1-0; Buffalo and New England 0-1.

“It’s only one game,” was the Bills players’ mantra following that 22-16 overtime defeat by the Jets. And while that’s true in simplistic terms, it was a division game which essentially made it two losses.

It also took only one game to alter the perception of the division.

Start with Miami which went into Los Angeles to face the Chargers and their elite quarterback, Justin Herbert, and emerged with a 36-34 shootout victory in which QB Tua Tagovailoa looked like the second coming of Joe Montana (3 touchdowns, 466 passing yards).

A game in, the Dolphins look to be one of the NFL’s most potent offensive teams.

The Jets are different. New York stole a victory that it had gift-wrapped for Buffalo when Hall-of-Fame-bound quarterback Aaron Rodgers was lost for the season to a ruptured Achilles tendon four plays into the game.

But what back-up Zach Wilson did in front of a record crowd at the Meadowlands isn’t likely to be duplicated and the Jets will likely fall to the bottom of the AFC East by season’s end.

The Bills?

There’s are very real reasons for concern as all three units collapsed against New York. Quarterback Josh Allen again imploded, firing three bad-decision interceptions into double coverage and added a lost fumble — the four giveaways an NFL first-week high — that gave the Jets enough possessions to win.

Last year, all three regular-season losses were on Allen: the Jets and Dolphins on the road and Minnesota at home in overtime, those defeats by a combined eight points.

There were also the 9-6 loss at Jacksonville in 2021 and that dismal collapse at Houston in the playoff game against the Texans when Buffalo blew a 16-0 third-quarter lead and lost 22-19 in overtime four years ago..

For all of Allen’s considerable talent, he’s been part of several extremely hurtful losses. Some are more punitive than others and Monday night’s was as bad as it gets … one that will linger in the memory right into January with a possible playoff berth at stake.

Meanwhile, McDermott’s defense surrendered an appalling 172 rushing yards and the special teams were stung by a punt return for a touchdown which earned the Jets a win in OT.

Finally, there are the Patriots.

New England opened by hosting Super Bowl loser Philadelphia and immediately was down 16-0 in the opening quarter looking awful doing it. But the Pats regrouped and had two possessions in the final minutes to win the game before succumbing 25-20.

It’s worth noting maligned Patriots quarterback Mac Jones looked like a different player and the way New England played defense the last three periods left the idea coach Bill Belichick isn’t quite ready to concede the division.

AFTER MONDAY’S loss, Bills coach Sean McDermott resorted to his usual bromide, “We’ve got to learn from this … “ Of course, he says  that after every blown victory and it sure doesn’t seem there’s a lot of learning going on as those type of losses pile up.

But he also correctly pointed out of that defeat, “We didn’t play our best game … It’s hard to win when you turn the ball over four times … we beat ourselves.”

Of course, the clincher was the game-winning 65-yard punt return for a touchdown by Jets’ rookie Xavier Gipson.

When asked about the play, McDermott allowed, “Not good enough execution by our coverage team and our kicking game overall, really.

“Any time you kick one down the middle of the field, it’s not a good thing … there’s multiple ways it could go. You want to pin ’em on or near the numbers or even closer to the sideline. Unfortunately, there are a lot of hands in that, it’s not just one person. We could have had a better snap, punt and coverage as well.”

BUT MOST of the questions were about Allen’s four-turnover night and his current mental state.

“I’m concerned about everybody’s confidence,” McDermott admitted, “mentally everybody was up and down (Monday) night.”

But he seemed comfortable with where Allen is.

“He’s great in terms of taking ownership,” McDermott said, “ … he’s very upfront about it and he wants to get it corrected.”

But the seventh-year coach did concede seeing Allen running with abandon is a concern.

“What comes to mind No. 1, is physically, his health … playing smart,” he said. “We don’t need Josh to sacrifice his body as much as he does … just slide or go out of bounds from a health standpoint.

“One, because we need him healthy through the entire season and No. 2 is keeping the big picture at all times as a much as possible. Playing complementary football in all three phases is important and it all doesn’t have to happen all at once or on one down in particular.”

(Chuck Pollock, a Wellsville Sun senior sports columnist, can be reached at cpollock@wnynet.net.)

Past column from Chuck:

• Bills season prediction

• A pre-season final win erases memories of the Steelers loss

• Where were the tight ends in the preseason win?

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