The New York Jets seem to have little problem with beating teams at their own level or lower.
Defeating apparent Super Bowl contenders is another story.
For the third time on the past four weeks, the Jets (3-4) had a chance make a statement against a team that’s expected to seriously compete for a berth in Super Bowl XLVII in February. They’re getting closer each time, but they’ve yet to break through with a big victory in such situations.
Three weeks ago, New York was embarrassed at home, 34-0, by San Francisco (5-2). A week later, Houston edged a valiant Jets team, 23-17, in the same place.
On Sunday, New York probably should have won, and even led in the final seconds of regulation, but ultimately, it was the same story against a legitimate challenger for this year’s NFL title, as the Jets let a win slip away in a frustrating 29-26 overtime road loss to the New England Patriots (4-3), with first place in the AFC East on the line.
Quarterback Mark Sanchez, often unfairly maligned, lacking the necessary offensive line protection and receiving targets to succeed, played well, going 28-for-41, for 328 yards, with a touchdown and an interception, but he was sacked four times, including a game-ending one in overtime that forced a fumble to seal the Patriots’ victory.
Sanchez didn’t get a lot of help from running back Shonn Greene, who one week after rushing for a career-high 161 yards in an easy home win over the Indianapolis Colts, was held to just 54 yards on 16 carries.
And, while kicker Nick Folk made all four of his field goal attempts, including a 54-yarder just before halftime and a pair of clutch 43-yarders in the fourth quarter, and although New York’s kick coverage caused a key fumble late in that period, that unit also allowed the second-longest kick return for a touchdown in Patriots history, to help New England quickly turn around a game that started surprisingly in the Jets’ favor.
New York impressively went 75 yards on 11 plays on its opening possession, to lead 7-0 on a one-yard touchdown plunge by Greene, but Devin McCourty returned the ensuing kickoff 104 yards to tie the game.
After a Jets three-and-out, quarterback Tom Brady (26-for-42, 259 yards, two touchdowns, one sack) did what he does as well as anyone who’s played the game of football, while engineering a seven-play, 58-yard drive in just 2:18, finishing it with a 17-yard touchdown throw to tight end Rob Gronkowski (six catches, team-high 78 yards, two touchdowns), to give New England its first lead, 14-7, with 4:11 left in the first quarter.
In the second quarter, a fumble led to Sanchez having to kick the ball out of the end zone for a safety and a 16-7 Patriots advantage, 1:50 into the period, and as the Jets’ defense held, Sanchez was later intercepted, before eventually leading New York on a 12-play, 60-yard trip for a long field goal by Folk that cut New England’s lead to 16-10, two seconds before halftime.
Folk trimmed that margin in half, 16-13, on a 21-yard field goal, after Sanchez took the Jets 66 yards on 11 plays to start the third quarter.
The Patriots answered with a 15-play, 67-yard drive that ended with a two-yard touchdown throw from Brady to Gronkowski and a 23-13 New England lead with 2:39 remaining in the period.
However, Sanchez led New York on a 14-play, 91-yard excursion that took 6:58, to slice the Patriots’ lead to 23-20 with 5:44 left in regulation, on a seven-yard touchdown pass to tight end Dustin Keller (seven catches, 93 yards, one touchdown).
The Jets then forced a three-and-out, and needed just six plays to go 40 yards for a kick by Folk that tied the game at 23 apiece with 2:06 to go in the quarter.
On the kickoff that followed, McCourty fumbled, and went from an earlier hero to seemingly costing the Patriots the game.
But, taking over at the New England 18-yard line with 2:01 left in the period, New York could only gain three yards in as many plays and settled for a field goal by Folk to lead 26-23, while running just 24 seconds off of the clock.
That was far too much time for one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, as Brady completed consecutive passes of 15 and 12 yards to Gronkowski and another 20 yards to ex-Jet running back Danny Woodhead, before going back to Woodhead for another seven yards two plays later. From there, kicker Stephen Gostkowski matched Folk with his own 43-yard field goal to send the game to overtime on the final play of regulation.
Brady started the extra session by taking New England 54 yards on a dozen plays, to the Jets’ 30-yard line, setting up Gostkowski for a 48-yard field goal that gave the Patriots a three-point lead that they wouldn’t relinquish.
The drive gave New England 381 total yards (22 fewer than New York), giving the Patriots an NFL record-tying 16th straight game with at least 350 total yards (matching the 1999-2000 St, Louis Rams).
Threading a nice 17-yard pass between two New England defenders, to wide receiver Jeremy Kerley (seven catches for a career-high and game-high 120 yards), Sanchez moved the Jets to their own 40-yard line, but linebacker Rob Ninkovich’s hit on Sanchez resulted in Ninkovich recovering a loose ball to end the game on the next play.
Pointing to his team’s red zone failures when the Jets could have come away with more points on a few different occasions, Sanchez said, “It really stings because we played hard throughout the whole game… and you can’t kick field goals against [the Patriots], you’ve got to get seven points.”
Knowing that a big game was again there for the taking for the undermanned and injury-plagued Jets, who remain without a key starter for the season on each side of the ball, New York head coach Rex Ryan said, “We made too many mistakes… but, I’m proud of my team.”
Returning home next week, the Jets will try to finish a season sweep of the Miami Dolphins (3-3), who were beaten by New York in Miami, 23-20, in overtime, in Week 3.