FOXBOROUGH — The quiet in the Jets locker room was appropriate for the most excruciating regular-season loss in the four years Rex Ryan has been chasing Bill Belichick.
The Jets had a chance to take out the bully and assume control of the AFC East with an impressive comeback in a hostile environment, but they were left with pained looks knowing these chances don’t often come along more than once a season.
“It’s not a good feeling,” linebacker Calvin Pace said. “We missed a golden opportunity."
The Jets lost to the Patriots, 29-26, in overtime and it’s the kind of game that doesn’t go away quickly or easily and can ultimately ruin a season.
These are not the Patriots who won three Super Bowls from 2001-04 or lost Super Bowls to the Giants in two of the last five seasons. They were all but begging the Jets to beat them. But when the Jets had a chance to step on the Patriots’ throat after recovering a fumbled kickoff at the Patriots 18 with 2:01 left after they had tied the game on Nick Folk’s 43-yard field goal, they literally ran scared of Mark Sanchez just when he was tearing apart New England’s pass defense.
Even though the Jets are depleted without Darrelle Revis, their best player, and Santonio Holmes, their only accomplished playmaker, Sunday was their chance to take out the Patriots.
Ultimately it came down to the Jets leaving points on the field and too much time on the clock at the end of regulation. Folk’s field goal had brought the Jets even after they trailed by 10 in the fourth quarter. Now they were set up inside the New England 20. The goal: Get a touchdown, or at least a first down before a field goal, and drain as much time off the clock as possible to avoid Brady having much time or any timeouts.
“Things were looking good,” Sanchez said.
Even though Sanchez was 9-for-10 for 93 yards on a touchdown drive earlier in the fourth quarter and might have gotten more than a field goal on the drive preceding the fumbled kickoff if rookie Stephen Hill hadn’t dropped a wide-open pass at the 12 on third down, offensive coordinator Tony Sparano – remember his pedigree is as an offensive line coach – literally took the ball out of Sanchez’s hands when he was finally, after all these years, playing like a franchise quarterback.
Shonn Greene was temporarily sidelined after taking a big hit, so the Jets were without their best runner. On first down, Sparano put in Tim Tebow for just the fourth time in the game. He ran for two yards and the clocked stopped for the two-minute warning. On second down, Joe McKnight ran for one yard. Belichick used his first timeout. On third down, Sanchez was rolling out looking for Jeremy Kerley and saw him fell down.
He took a 10-yard sack rather than throw the ball away, forcing Belichick to call his second timeout.
Folk then kicked another 43-yard field goal to give the Jets a 26-23 lead. There was still 1:37 left. Way too much time for Brady.
When Ryan was asked if, had he the chance to do it again, he would have taken a shot on that possession, he said, “I think in hindsight, being the fact that we lost the game, you’d try anything. But at the time, we did try to throw it. On third down, we thought we could make a play, but unfortunately they ended up making a good play.”
But here was the problem: Where was the shot into the end zone? Where was the killer instinct? Where was a pass play on first or second down designed to get a first down? Sparano knew Belichick had all his timeouts and the two-minute warning. Unless the Jets picked up a first down, they were not going to run out the clock. Remember the Patriots are awful defending the pass.
Instead, the Jets took a measly 24 seconds off the clock. Brady drove New England 54 yards for Stephen Gostkowksi’s 43-yard field goal on the final play of regulation to send the game into OT. Brady had another 54-yard drive to open OT to set up another field goal. Then Sanchez left the ball on the ground when he was sacked when the Jets were moving. They needed a field goal to keep the game going or a touchdown to win it.
Sanchez played one of those games that can either get Ryan into the playoffs or get him fired. The QB is so ridiculously inconsistent. He goes through stretches when he outplays the great Brady, yet in the same game he plays so poorly you wonder when Ryan is finally going to change the channel and tune in Tebow Time.
Sanchez underthrew a wide-open Hill at the goal line in the second quarter and was picked off. He fumbled on the final play of the game when he absolutely had to protect the ball to keep the game alive.
The Jets were heartbroken after the game. They had the ball at the New England 18 with a chance to win it. Their quarterback was outplaying Brady, but the coaches couldn’t get it out of their mind that he was still Mark Sanchez.