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New York Jets, Mark Sanchez make statement vs. Buffalo Bills

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- At halftime, while LaRon Landry was required to take a break from punishing ball carriers, he and some teammates spent a moment assessing their initial 30 minutes of the 2012 season.

"And we realized, we haven't punted yet," Landry would say later, in the winning locker room. "That's what it's about: domination."

No argument there.

But the New York Jets' 48-28 victory over the Buffalo Bills was about more than just steamrolling an AFC East rival. This was about winning a game the Jets had to win -- because of who they are, where they play and the schedule to come -- and they knew it.

As tight end Dustin Keller said, "We needed a day like this."

The Jets, particularly Mark Sanchez, bought themselves a measure of credibility Sunday, by playing efficiently and opportunistically, and by proving beyond reasonable doubt they have no allergy to the end zone.

"Most of the guys on offense knew we were good," Keller said, "but for the few guys on the team who weren't sure, this reassured them. I guess you could say this was a statement."

The statement was one of unity from a group that has previously fractured.

"It's like Rex (Ryan) has told all of us," Sanchez said, "everyone will see that we're all bleeding green."

OK, that's a little much. But we get the point.

It's worth noting here that one game is not a referendum. On anything. But for the Jets, this was a start. A fresh start in a year that has been, uh, busy.

In the past eight months, the Jets confronted their 2011 chemistry issues, hired Tony Sparano as offensive coordinator, agreed to a cap-friendly contract extension with Mark Sanchez, traded for Tim Tebow, committed to being a step faster on defense and running the ball on offense, and saw their head coach lose more than 100 pounds while reevaluating his leadership strategy.

Their penchant for bluster and proclamation -- of greatness, of Super Bowl destiny, of not kissing anybody's Super Bowl rings -- was replaced by Tebow-fueled curiosity bordering on obsession: over the Wildcat, over Sanchez's reaction to everything Tebow, over Tebow's mere presence, shirtless or otherwise.

Throw in a preseason that saw the Jets starters famously muster no touchdowns, and the image of Gang Green seemed to be settling in as a sideshow. Folks around the league, fans, media and -- most colorfully -- the New York tabloids perceived the Jets as a circus. As clowns. And by last Thursday, Rex had had enough.

On that day, Ryan delivered the same message to his players (in a meeting) and to reporters (in his regularly scheduled press conference): He's tired of "the circus thing," which he believes minimizes not only the Jets' accomplishments in his previous three seasons (32-22 including the playoffs, two AFC Championship Game appearances) but their current situation, as well.

In short, Ryan sought seriousness.

"I promise you," he said on that day, "our opponent will take us seriously, regardless of who it is."

The Bills couldn't compete with the Jets, not on a day when Ryan Fitzpatrick threw three interceptions and Mario Williams provided one tackle.

Three of the Jets' next four opponents -- they are at Pittsburgh and then Miami, followed by home games against the 49ers and Texans -- will represent considerably tougher tasks. And the Jets know it. That's why there was no chest-thumping Sunday from a team that almost always wants to be heard.

"Vindication," Ryan said, "(is) way too strong of a word."

Jets players universally talked about the need to improve. The offense was effective, but benefited from four turnovers supplied by the defense. New York's defense throttled Fitzpatrick, but saw Bills RB C.J. Spiller rack up 169 rushing yards on just 14 carries.

If the Jets want us to believe the circus has left town, that's fine. If they want us to believe they are contenders, there's more work to do and they know it. In the words of receiver Santonio Holmes, "One game doesn't make a season."

No argument there.

Follow Kimberly Jones on Twitter @KimJonesSports.

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