Jets Fumble Away a 16-0 Lead in the Season Opener

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Le’Veon Bell finally played his first football game in 20 months on Sunday, and the Jets kept him busy, calling his number on eight of their first 10 plays from scrimmage. He went on to catch a touchdown pass and then an improvised toss for a 2-point conversion.

The 2-pointer thrilled the crowd at MetLife Stadium and stretched the Jets’ lead to 16-0, but there were still 22 minutes to play. And the Jets’ defense, so stout early in the game, proceeded to let every bit of that hard-earned lead squirt away, and the Buffalo Bills rallied for a 17-16 victory.

Quarterback Josh Allen led the Bills to a field goal and two touchdowns on their final four possessions, giving his team its first lead on a 38-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver John Brown with just three minutes to play. Brown had also been interfered with before the catch.

The Jets had two chances to take back the lead, but their first drive — extended when Bell wriggled for a first down on a fourth-and-1 play — ended with four consecutive incompletions by Sam Darnold, who was 27 of 40 on the day for only 179 yards. A last-gasp second chance, with just seconds to go in the game, essentially went nowhere.

Allen, meanwhile, threw for 254 yards. He was intercepted twice, though, one of which was returned by linebacker C.J. Mosley 17 yards for the Jets’ first touchdown of the season. Mosley injured his groin later in the game and was not on the field during Buffalo’s comeback.

The loss, in Adam Gase’s first game as the Jets’ coach, was especially bitter because the first 38 minutes of the game had gone so well. And Bell, who signed as a free agent after a one-year holdout, touched the ball just six times in the Jets’ last three drives. He ended with 60 yards on 17 carries, and 32 yards on six catches.

Allen started out looking as if he would carve up the Jets’ defense all day, completing his first five passes for 44 yards to move the ball to the Jets’ 26-yard line. But he threw the ball away under pressure on his next attempt, and the Jets then got to him.

Outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins barreled into Allen on a second-down pass play, knocking the ball loose. Steve McLendon recovered the ball for the Jets at their 38-yard line, and even though their first drive went nowhere, the defense had found a path to Allen.

On Buffalo’s next play from scrimmage, Allen tried to sling a pass underneath to wide receiver Cole Beasley. The ball skipped off Beasley’s hands and into Mosley’s arms. Mosley scampered into the end zone and the Jets had a 6-0 lead just 4 minutes 26 seconds into the game.

As the fans celebrated, the extra-point attempt by Kaare Vedvik, claimed off waivers Sept. 1 from Minnesota, clanged off the left upright, silencing the crowd quickly.

Buffalo rolled to the Jets’ 32 on its next drive. But a false-start penalty on right guard Jon Feliciano pushed back the Bills. Allen set up a field-goal attempt by scrambling for 8 yards to the Jets’ 33, but Feliciano was called for an unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty. Buffalo punted.

Midway through the second quarter, Allen moved the Bills from their 5 into Jets territory. But he picked up only a yard on a third-and-2 quarterback sneak, then fumbled the snap on fourth down. Mosley killed the drive by pouncing on the loose ball at the Jets’ 37.

Buffalo’s next drive ended when Jets defensive lineman Steve McLendon batted an Allen pass into the air and inside linebacker Neville Hewitt picked it off in plenty of time for the Jets to at least get a field goal. But Vedvik’s 45-yard attempt missed by a lot, to a round of boos.

A superb 53-yard punt by Lachlan Edwards set up the defense’s next score, because Trenton Cannon downed it at the Buffalo 2. On the next play, Frank Gore was hit behind the goal line by Jets defensive back Brian Poole for a safety that extended the lead to 8-0.

Meanwhile, after five punts and a missed field goal on its first six possessions, the Jets’ offense finally found the end zone midway through the third quarter, though it took two attempts.

Darnold avoided a tackle and flipped an apparent 4-yard touchdown pass to tight end Ryan Griffin, but the touchdown was wiped out by an offensive pass-interference penalty. Two plays later, Darnold slung a low pass that Bell caught for a 9-yard touchdown.

Darnold delighted the crowd on the 2-point conversion by dodging the Buffalo pass rush and unfurling a towering pass that Bell jumped to catch in a corner of the end zone. The Jets had a 16-0 lead with 7:01 left in third quarter. But Allen had lots of time to stage a comeback and to the profound dismay of Jets fans, he did just that.