EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- On the Jets' first defensive play, linebacker Jordan Jenkins broke through the line of scrimmage and dragged Buffalo Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor down at the 4-yard line. For a team that has had an underachieving pass rush for the first half of the season, that was a significant moment.
It also sent a significant message.
"It said, 'We're coming,'" Jenkins said.
They certainly were. And they never stopped.
For the first time all year -- maybe in years -- the Jets defense played like it always said it could in what became a convincing 34-21 win over the Bills on Thursday night. They played a suffocating run defense, holding the dangerous LeSean McCoy to just 25 yards. And they got an out-of-nowhere pass rush that produced seven sacks, including three from their much-maligned defensive line.
Forget the wild, final seven minutes when the Jets, with the game already in hand, surrendered 127 yards and two touchdowns. This was a smothering defensive performance. The Bills never had a chance.
"It's exciting for our defense to go and play lights-out like that," linebacker Demario Davis said. "And we still know we have so much room for improvement.
"We're going to be a tough team to beat."
They already are that, despite their 4-5 record. Remember, that includes three straight fourth-quarter meltdowns that turned possible wins into losses and ruined a decent chance for them to be 7-2. Their offense, even during those losses, overachieved. But the defense, surprisingly, was the part that couldn't keep up.
That all changed Thursday with all those sacks, all that containment of McCoy and Taylor (29-of-40, 285 yards and only 35 yards rushing) and three big turnovers at key times. Containing McCoy and Taylor was huge. That, head coach Todd Bowles said, was their entire game plan. Before the game, Muhammad Wilkerson said he challenged his teammates to hold McCoy to 70 yards or fewer, a mark they cleared with plenty of room to spare.
"Defensively, we got after it," Bowles said. "We sent four and five guys at times. We did some things defensively that kept him (Taylor) in the pocket. We were able to collapse the pocket and get some sacks."
The sacks certainly were what caught everyone's attention. Jets cornerback Buster Skrine said the pass rush was "off the chain." Davis attributed the sack explosion to "perseverance," and that "when it happens, it's like the floodgates of heaven opening."
In other words, sacks come in bunches -- as defensive linemen always say -- and they came that way for the Jets. Jenkins had two. Davis and linebacker Darron Lee each had one. Wilkerson, who had another phenomenal game, had one. So did defensive end Kony Ealy. Even Leonard Williams got his first half-sack of the season, splitting one with defensive tackle Steve McLendon. Safety Jamal Adams would've added an eighth, but that was nullified by a defensive penalty.
It wasn't just the pressure up front. The turnovers were big too, including one brilliant one in the third quarter where Bills tight end Nick O'Leary caught a pass, went down untouched and got up thinking the play was over. But as he motioned to flip the ball to an official, the Jets rookie safeties -- Adams and Marcus Maye -- realized O'Leary had never been touched and no whistle had blown, so they alertly combined to strip the ball out of his hands.
It was that kind of relentless, aggressive defense that the Jets played all game. The way they buzzed around Taylor, the way they "swarmed" (in Bowles' words) McCoy.
"It's different when we're clicking on all cylinders," Bowles said. "It's not just Mo, but everybody. Darron and Double-D (Davis) were playing well, and Leo and Steve and (Mike) Pennel. All of those guys came in and played.
"When it's clicking, it's pretty good."
Added Wilkerson: "We know what type of defense we can be. We have to build on that moving forward."
If they can, the Jets really can be a tough team to beat the rest of the season, and considering they're right in the thick of the AFC wild-card chase with seven games to go, that opens up a world of possibilities that no one would've imagined back in the beginning of September. The Josh McCown-led offense has been a pleasant surprise all season, but the aggressive, tough defense had been missing.
If it's really back, then maybe Jenkins is right: The Jets are coming. And they won't be easy to stop.