Ryan Fitzpatrick and about a dozen of his family members lingered in the middle of the Ralph Wilson Stadium field about an hour after Sunday’s season finale.
The seats were empty. The field was bright but the stands were dark, with half of the stadium lights off. Fitzpatrick, in his street clothes and with one of his children under his arm, was the only player on the field. Photos were taken on the Bills logo.
The scene felt like goodbye.
So did the preceding three-hour game, in which the Bills defeated the Jets, 28-9.
It surely was the final Bills start for Fitzpatrick, who has too high a salary and too few wins to keep him next season.
It was expected to be the final game for head coach Chan Gailey, numerous people on the team and within the administration acknowledged. Gailey’s record (16-32) is worse than any of the three coaches who preceded him during the Bills’ 13-year playoff drought.
And it might have been the swan song for Bills General Manager Buddy Nix, who awaits word on his job status this week from team owner Ralph C. Wilson Jr.
“This is the last time this team is going to be together with all of the guys,” Fitzpatrick said. “There was so much disappointment, so to go out there and just [considering] all of the uncertainty to follow this game — you just want to put all of your focus into this game and go play.”
The Bills (6-10) finished in last place in the AFC East despite the victory, due to a tiebreaker they lose to the Jets (6-10).
Despite shutting down dismal Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez, the Bills’ defense finished the season allowing the second most points (435), the third most yards (5,809) and the most first downs (349) in team history.
The Bills own the eighth overall pick in the 2013 NFL draft.
The players acknowledged in the locker room afterward that changes were coming.
“The chips are going to fall where they may,” linebacker Bryan Scott said. “Obviously things are going to happen. We don’t know to what extent. But this team will not be fully intact as it is right now. That happens every year. It’s not a worry. You just know it’s gonna happen.”
“There’s changes every year, whether it be players, coaches,” said defensive tackle Kyle Williams. “Whatever happens we’re prepared for it. We’ve been around awhile.”
The Bills weren’t taking much comfort in the victory.
“This one game, it’s not any consolation as to what we want to get done this season,” Scott said. “Obviously it’s good to … end the season on a high note, but at the end of the day we didn’t accomplish our goal in 2012.”
“There is no way to slice it or sugarcoat it,” safety Jairus Byrd said. “We need to get better.”
“It’s a good way to end the thing, but looking at it is more frustrating, just thinking we were able to put some plays together and know we can play well,” Williams said.
They did, however, feel some pride in the fact they won. Williams addressed the team in the locker room immediately after the game.
“I just told the guys, and I think they know, how much I appreciate them and appreciate their work,” Williams said. “Obviously it’s been a tough year, a frustrating year, but guys never packed it in. They always came to work. You had a high level of professionalism, and you appreciate that.”
“These end-of-the-season games, when you’re not playing for much, you’ve got to dig deep,” center Eric Wood said. “We got a good group of leaders. They stayed on us all week, saying, ‘We’ve got to finish what we started.’ You don’t pack it in. As a man, you go finish. I was glad we came out with some intensity today because it would be real easy to pack it in and put out a lame performance, but the defense played great and the offense put it together when we needed to.”
The Bills gained control early.
Sanchez, expected to be playing his last game as a Jet after four seasons, threw a bad first-quarter interception to Scott, who returned it 20 yards for a touchdown. It put Buffalo ahead, 7-3. It was a short slant pass to Sanchez’s left and Scott easily stepped in front of it.
“It was a zone coverage,” Scott said. “I just kinda read his eyes. I guess he didn’t see me coming from the opposite side. It’s a great feeling.”
It was Sanchez’s league-high 18th interception of the season.
The Jets held a 9-7 lead late in the second quarter when Bills running back C.J. Spiller ripped off a 66-yard touchdown on a screen pass.
Spiller lined up in the left slot, faked to the outside, came back toward the middle and caught the ball at the line of scrimmage. Jets safety LaRon Landry couldn’t keep up with him. Spiller made a dart to the right to avoid a diving Yeremiah Bell and then bolted up the middle of the field to the end zone. No Jet touched him. Guard Andy Levitre got one block near the line, and guard Kraig Urbik shielded Eric Smith out of the way 30 yards downfield.
“We worked on it in practice and thought it was something we could get,” Spiller said. “When I seen the guy [Landry] get caught up, I knew that I had it.”
“It was a great play by him,” Wood said of Spiller. “Andy was able to get a nice block. We actually were able to get a rush out of the D-linemen. They were playing for the screen on a lot of screen situations. But we got a rush out of them, which helped. I was running up the middle of the field and he just blew past me.”
The Bills added a 4-yard TD run out of the Wildcat formation by Brad Smith and a 13-yard TD run by Tashard Choice. Spiller had 131 yards from scrimmage. Receiver Stevie Johnson had 111 receiving yards to go over the 1,000-yard mark for a third straight season. Fitzpatrick hit 12-of-26 throws for 225 yards.