A spirited defensive effort was nearly outdone by a team-record 20 penalties, but the New York Jets won a battle between rookie quarterbacks after Geno Smith's third touchdown of the day was enough to down EJ Manuel and the Buffalo Bills, 27-20.
Smith, who was passed on by the Bills in this past April's NFL Draft in favor of Manuel, put forth his best performance as a pro, and needed to in order to overcome 163 team penalty yards. He threw for two touchdowns and added another on the ground, while completing 16-of-29 throws for 331 yards with a pair of interceptions.
The Jets' (2-1) receiving corps stepped up against a depleted secondary that Smith was routinely picking apart. Santonio Holmes and Stephen Hill each caught long touchdown passes, with Holmes' 69-yard score with 9:23 left proving to be the difference. He ended with five catches for 154 yards, while Hill accumulated 108 yards on three receptions.
"A big division win," said Jets coach Rex Ryan. "The thing that makes me most happy is that I know this team will get better."
Bilal Powell had a breakout game to pace New York's rushing attack, totaling 149 yards on 27 carries. Buffalo's CJ Spiller wasn't as fortunate, bottled up for nine yards on 10 carries before leaving with a knee injury.
Manuel's life was made miserable most of the day, as the Jets' defense sacked the rookie signal-caller eight times. He completed just 19-of-42 passes for 243 yards and a touchdown, and the Bills (1-2) were forced to settle for four Dan Carpenter field goals on the day.
"When they're bringing eight people at you it gets tough," said Manuel. "Moving forward we'll be more prepared for it"
Holmes' first touchdown of the season came just two plays after the Bills had drawn even. Smith found the receiver sprinting down the sideline, and Holmes made a one-handed snag around corner Justin Rogers before taking it all the way to the end zone, erasing New York's most miserable defensive effort of the day.
On the Bills' drive that tied the game at 20-20, New York's Kyle Wilson was flagged for a penalty on four consecutive plays, two of which occurred on third downs. Coach Ryan finally lifted the beleaguered corner, and two plays later, Manuel hooked up with Scott Chandler for a 33-yard score. The Bills then made good on the two-point conversion, with Stevie Johnson hauling in the reception to tie the score with 10:39 remaining.
However, Buffalo was unable to muster another score after falling behind. It finished the game a brutal 4-for-18 on third down conversions.
The Jets went ahead, 20-6, on their first touch of the third. Holmes broke away to haul in a 40-yard pass from Smith on 3rd-and-12, then Jeff Cumberland made an 18-yard catch to set up Nick Folk's 34-yard field goal.
Manuel scrambled for 19 yards on the Bills' ensuing possession, and a 24-yard pass interference penalty on Wilson moved them deep into New York territory. Carpenter's 43-yard kick cut the deficit to 11.
Smith's second interception, this one by Bills linebacker Kiko Alonso, put Buffalo on New York's 13-yard line. However, the Jets defense made the stand and the Bills were again forced to settle for three on Carpenter's 26-yarder.
In the first, Smith directed the Jets down the field on their initial drive, highlighting the 12-play series with a 45-yard strike to Hill before scoring on an 8-yard scramble that gave New York a 7-0 lead.
The Bills punted on their first two possessions, but Fred Jackson ended the first quarter with a bang, bouncing to the outside for a 59-yard rush. Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie chased him down to save a touchdown, and the Bills ended up settling for Carpenter's 37-yard kick.
Smith tried going deep on the first play of New York's ensuing possession, but former Jets safety Jim Leonhard picked off his intended pass for Holmes. A pair of rushes by Jackson put the Bills on the Jets' 10, but the drive stalled and Carpenter booted a 23-yarder through to make it 7-6.
Smith rebounded after the interception, completing a pair of short throws before heaving the ball down field to a streaking Hill for a 51-yard touchdown.
New York then made a big defensive stand on the Bills' ensuing possession, with rookie defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson stuffing Jackson for a 1-yard loss on 3rd-and-1. The Bills decided to go for it from the Jets' 33, but Demario Davis broke the line to sack Manuel for a turnover on downs.
The Jets got the ball back with 43 seconds left in the half, and a pass interference penalty helped the Jets cross midfield. Folk kicked a 47-yard field goal through to put New York up 17-6 at the break.
Ryan improved to 7-2 against the Bills as coach of the Jets ... Buffalo lost cornerback Leodis McKelvin to a leg injury in the first quarter ... New York outgained Buffalo, 513-328 ... The Jets possessed the ball for 34:13.