ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — Sheldon Richardson never moved.
While his teammates showered, dressed and gathered their things, the Jets defensive tackle sat in front of his locker stall with his back to everyone else.
He stared blankly at the wall for what felt like hours. And then, finally, he just hung his head.
The “Same Old Jets” jinx is alive and well it seems.
Ryan Fitzpatrick played one of his worst games of the season in his return to Buffalo, throwing three fourth-quarter interceptions to seal the Jets’ fate and a 22-17 Bills win on Sunday.
The loss, coupled with Pittsburgh’s 28-12 victory in Cleveland, means the Jets (10-6) will miss the playoffs for the fifth straight season.
And in the end, it was their former coach Rex Ryan who delivered the dagger that destroyed their postseason hopes.
“Yeah, we won 10 games, a big turnaround from last year,” Richardson eventually said, in a nearly-deserted locker room. “But it doesn’t matter because we got the same result. Done. 16 games.”
“It feels like the worst loss of my career, just because it was right there,” said right tackle Breno Giacomini, who won a Super Bowl with the Seahawks two years ago. “…It’ll probably take all the way until Week 1 to get over this. You just hurt for those guys. Worst of my career, for sure. This is terrible. A terrible feeling.”
The Jets had to contend with blistering cold, brutal winds and a Ryan defense. And yet, Todd Bowles’ team proved to be its own worst enemy.
Ryan Quigley’s 21-yard first-quarter punt, a 12-men-in-the-huddle penalty and a 15-yard unsportsmanlike-conduct flag on rookie defensive lineman Leonard Williams were just a few of the breakdowns that culminated in one disappointing end to what had been a storybook season.
“We didn’t get it done,” said head coach Todd Bowles.
“We just weren’t good enough,” added outside linebacker Calvin Pace.
The Jets lost control of the game from the opening quarter, but in the third they lost one of their biggest defensive stars, Pro Bowl-bound defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson (broken leg).
On Sunday, the “FitzMagic” finally ran out too.
His grit and late-game heroics had helped propel them to a five-game winning streak, pushing them to the brink of the postseason. But just like every other season in his 11-year career, Fitzpatrick failed to reach the playoffs. Just like 10-year veteran Brandon Marshall.
“All you can ask for in this game is just an opportunity. And as poorly as we played in the first quarter...(we) had an opportunity at the end to win the game,” said the quarterback, who completed 16 of 37 passes for 181 yards and two touchdowns to set a new career-high of 31. His first pick also was his first red-zone interception of the season.
Said Marshall: “I’m a little numb right now. …Any team that’s going home right now, it’s a failure. We play for one reason. That’s to win it all.”
Buffalo (8-8) had nothing to play for, and yet it was the Bills who bought the defensive pressure and the energy en route to an early 13-0 lead at Ralph Wilson Stadium.
A 17-yard TD pass from Fitzpatrick to Brandon Marshall cut the Bills’ lead to 13-7 in the second quarter and also broke Vinny Testaverde’s single-season touchdown mark (29). In the third, Fitzpatrick appeared to give the Jets new life when he connected with Eric Decker on a 21-yard TD to pull them to within 19-17 with 1:18 to go in the third quarter. But the momentum proved to be short-lived.
Fitzpatrick — who was first picked off in the back of the end zone by Leodis McKelvin with 10:43 left in the game and later had a pass picked by Manny Lawson with 1:51 to go — eventually killed all hope of a comeback when A.J. Tarpley intercepted a pass meant for Decker with 11 seconds on the clock. On the previous play, Kenbrell Thompkins got behind the Bills defense and had a chance for a 73-yard TD catch and run. But defensive back Mario Butler broke up the play and Thompkins couldn’t come down with the ball after it went up in the air.
The media descended upon Woody Johnson as soon as he emerged from the visitors locker room. And though he praised his players’ fight, the Jets owner was visibly frustrated.
“It’s a disappointing end of the season. That’s all I’m going to say,” Johnson said. “The players stuck together. They played hard. Just didn’t get it done up here. On to next year. We’ve got to be better next year.”
Asked if he was disappointed by the outcome, Johnson snapped, “What do you think?” before pushing his way through the crowd.