In the NFL, a hero saves the day for his team.
And can single-handedly be the difference maker that pushes his team into the win column.
On any given game day, a hero can come from either side of the ball, can surprise and shock even the most die-hard fans, making a game that is won by a team effort that much easier due to his individual performance.
A zero, though, can usually find themselves being held accountable for losses, even the closest, most hard-fought of them (see Scott Norwood).
Again, though success in football is a result of the work of the entire roster, those zeroes that randomly reveal themselves each week can seem to be that one thing that drives a team into defeat, snatching a loss from the jaws of possible victory.
In the massacre that was the Buffalo Bills versus the New York Jets, the 48-28 Jets win had several candidates for both hero and zero, though there were, of course, fewer options for Jets in the zero column and only one or two nominations for hero on the Bills (C.J. Spiller… the end).
However, since the bonehead zero usually comes from the losing team (being Buffalo) and the hero largely finds himself on the sidelines of the winner (unquestionably the Jets), we’ll just stick with that guideline and give you my nominations from this AFC East divisional opener. Enjoy.
Hero of the Game
WR Jeremy Kerley
While Mark Sanchez may have been the man who truly won the game for New York, throwing three scores and putting together seven impressive scoring drives, it was sophomore sensation Jeremy Kerley who emerged as the surprise star with his performance Sunday.
Though he looked good from the start, owning nickel cornerback Leodis McKelvin from the first quarter on and catching a gorgeous 12-yard pass from Sanchez for the first touchdown of the day, it was Kerley’s punt return in the second half that made the biggest impression on the game.
A back breaker to be sure, Kerley took a punt by Brian Moorman 68 yards for a TD early in the second quarter, driving the score up to 21-0 and effectively putting an end to any thoughts the Bills had of competing in this game.
Though Buffalo would go on to get their first score on the following possession, they never even sniffed the lead (or even a tie) and were just playing to save face from this point on out.
Kerley’s 43 yards on four catches may not have been the most receiving yards on the team Sunday (both Stephen Hill and Santonio Holmes bettered him), but after a rookie 2011 season that saw him only get one TD and 314 yards off of 29 catches, Jeremy’s performance was a revelation for fans of Big Green and one heck of a way to start his second year.
That punt return, though, was an impressive, dominating score early in the second, pushing the score to a defeating three possession advantage from which the Jets could coast the rest of the way.
A weapon still in his youth, there seems to be a brightening horizon for the TCU alum with New York.
Zero of the Game
QB Ryan Fitzpatrick
This could easily have been Mario Williams, as a zero is equal to nothing, which was “Super” Mario’s effect on the game (he had one tackle on the day, the Bills guaranteed him $50 million… the math doesn’t seem quite right), but Fitzpatrick was more responsible for the loss than any other player on the team, so you have to give it to Buffalo’s franchise quarterback.
Granted, if you only look at a portion of his stat line, the Bills’ bearded wonder had a nice little game, completing 18 of 32, getting 195 yards, and scoring three touchdowns on the day.
You know how many of those scores were in the first half? Zero.
You know what Ryan did have in the first half? Two of his three interceptions, with the third a pick six on Buffalo’s first drive of the second half, on Fitzpatrick’s first throw. Oops, guess we’ve got our undisputed zero of the day.
Since the Bills gave Fitzpatrick a contract extension back in late October, effectively naming him the leader of their offense for the foreseeable future, they’ve paid out a total of $15 million in bonuses to him ($10 million for signing, the rest just for coming to camp).
He’s also the second highest salary on the team behind Mario Williams in 2012 and has won exactly one game since signing his new deal last year (Christmas Eve last season against the Broncos and Tim Tebow).
To make matters worse, all that talk fans heard of the progress Fitz made in his mechanics during the off season under the tutelage of quarterbacks coach extraordinaire David Lee doesn’t seem to be on display thus far, as too many throws were either lazy, lofting arcs or overthrown bullets.
When he wasn’t hanging balls out there for his receivers to get injured off of (making your sore-groined, star receiver circus jump for throws doesn’t seem smart), he was trying to stubbornly force throws to covered targets… repeatedly.
It was a miracle that Fitzpatrick didn’t end up with two or three more interceptions by the end of the game (the opportunities were definitely there) and though he managed three scores during garbage time drives in the second half, he never really looked like the arm Buffalo wants him to be, the one they want to hang their future successes from.
Looks like Coach Lee might have more work to do before the Bills bring in Kansas City next week; maybe tweak the mechanics just a bit more. Or a lot more.
It’s early in the year, though, and thinking that these two players will be the tops and bottoms of their teams the rest of the way is ridiculous, but on opening weekend, Kerley definitely showed his heroic side, while Fitzpatrick continued to play like the injured player he was to end last season… only without the rib injury.
Any given game day, I guess. We’ll see what next week brings.
Joshua Bauer is a writer with Football Nation