For a fan base that has suffered over and over again, this one has to hurt more than most. It was right there for the New York Jets: Win their final regular-season game, against the Buffalo Bills, and they’d earn a spot in the playoffs for the first time in five years.
The Jets lost, 22-17.
Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who had played so well over the previous five weeks, with 13 touchdowns and one interception as the Jets went 5-0 and put themselves in postiion for a postseason berth, picked a terrible time to lose his “Fitzmagic,” throwing three fourth-quarter interceptions.
The Jets’ loss means the Pittsburgh Steelers claimed the second and final AFC wild-card spot, just one week after their own crushing road loss against the Baltimore Ravens put their postseason chances in jeopardy.
It’s tough to gauge which one was the back-breaker for New York, though the first may stay with Fitzpatrick for years to come: On second down from the Bills’ 14, Fitzpatrick took a short drop and aimed for Eric Decker in the end zone, but Leodis McKelvin stepped in front of the pass and claimed it for Buffalo, keeping the Jets off the board.
At that time, the score was just 19-17 in favor of Buffalo. Starting at their own 20 after the interception, Tyrod Taylor led the Bills on a 13-play, clock-eating, nearly seven-minute drive that only yielded a field goal, but put the Jets in position that they had to score a touchdown.
The Jets got the ball back with just under four minutes to play. This time, on third-and-long, Fitzpatrick was wrapped up by Marcell Dareus as he let go of a ball intended for Brandon Marshall, and it came down short, picked off by Manny Lawson.
The Bills could not get a first down that would have allowed them to kill the clock, so New York got the ball one last time with under a minute to play and no timeouts. A deep sideline pass for an open Kenbrell Thompkins could have been the play the Jets needed, but before Thompkins could secure the pass, Mario Butler came across and hit him, knocking the ball out.
One play later, with just seconds remaining, a deep attempt for Decker was easy pickings for A.J. Tarpley, and that was it.
Despite how the game ended, receiver Brandon Marshall said that the Jets were even in position for a playoff berth was because of Fitzpatrick, so the quarterback shouldn’t shoulder all of the blame.