The Jets went into a tough spot today — their regular-season finale, on the road at New England, with a 4-11 record and playing the 10-5 Patriots, who needed a win to clinch a bye week in the playoffs.
It didn't help that injuries had thinned the ranks at wide receiver and cornerback and that CB Trumaine Johnson and S Darryl Roberts were both healthy scratches on the decision of head coach Todd Bowles.
So it unfolded that Sam Darnold's last game of his first NFL season was not a "final exam" victory over Tom Brady and New England. With Brady throwing for four touchdowns, the Jets managing 239 yards of offense and Darnold's first strip sack of the year producing a fumble-return TD, the Patriots defeated the Jets, 38-3.
Here are eight chronological takeaways from today's game:
1. Spreading It Around
The Jets defense stopped New England on its opening series. Drive No. 2 was not as short and sweet as Brady completed all six of his passes to five different receivers, with RB James White taking the sixth completion in stride for 17 yards and stretching across the goal line despite S Rontez Miles' tackle attempt. The Patriots' lead was 7-0 with 9:44 gone in the opening frame.
2. On the Move
The Jets offense went 3-and-out to open the game but their second drive was productive, moved along by Darnold's season-long 28-yard scramble and Deontay Burnett's third-down conversion catch to the NE-23. The visitors were stopped after that but Pro Bowl K Jason Myers came on for a 40-yard field goal. He converted, giving him 12 straight under 50 yards on the road, 33 of 36 overall on the season, and cutting the Jets' deficit to 7-3. As it turned out, those were the Jets' only points.
3. Patriots Strike Back
In short order the hosts opened it back up to 14-3, on Brady's 18-yard strike to RB Rex Burkhead past LB Avery Williamson for Brady's 28th career TD pass against the Jets and Burkhead's first career TD catch vs. the Jets. Then soon after Elijah McGuire fumbled and the Pats returned it to the Jets 8, Brady hit WR Phillip Dorsett past Rashard Robinson in the end zone and it was 21-3 less than two minutes after the Burkhead score.
4. Close But No Cigar
Darnold moved the Jets smartly into the red zone with a Brady-esque six consecutive completions to five different receivers. After being stopped on third down at the NE-5, Bowles decided to go for it. Darnold's bid for a seventh hookup with a sixth different receiver, Robby Anderson in the back of the end zone, was stymied by CB Stephon Gilmore's defense as Anderson couldn't find the handle. The Pats took over and burned most of the rest of the first half in driving to the Jets 36, going for it and not making it on fourth down, and taking that 21-3 lead into the locker room.
5. Sam Gets Stripped
The Jets got a little window to do some damage when Patriots TE Dwayne Allen was flagged for blocking downfield on a 30-yard completion to Rob Gronkowski, then Brady followed with three straight longball incompletions. But after a punt started the visitors at their 39, they could only move to the NE-49 before Darnold, on third down, couldn't evade the pass rush and had the ball punched out of his hand as he tried to throw. The fumble was returned 46 yards by LB Van Noy for a TD and a 28-3 lead. It was the first strip sack that Darnold had suffered all season.
The Green & White offense finally got back in gear, driving into the red zone with a mix of McGuire runs and Darnold completions. But a third-down completion to Andre Roberts came up a foot short. The fourth-down call this time was a straight handoff to McGuire, who was stoned by the Patriots DL with 5:05 left in the third quarter. It was the second red zone loss on downs of the game for the Jets.
7. Long Field
Williamson's crushing hit on RB Sony Michel on third-and-a-yard resulted in fourth-and-an-inch at the Patriots 43. Head coach Bill Belichick decided not to go for it and the Pats punted. The Jets then tried to mount their longest touchdown drive of the season from their 6 (their previous long was 93 yards in Game 5 vs. Denver). Despite Burnett's strong third-down 25-yard grab to move the chains, the Jets still were stopped 69 yards short of the TD before punting.
8. The End
The Patriots posted a relentless 10-play, 64-yard march from there to Brady's fourth TD pass of the game, a 5-yard toss to WR Julian Edelman all alone in the end zone. That made it 38-3 with 3:26 to play and brought Darnold back on the field for the Jets' last meaningful offensive series of the 2018 season. He had one completion for a first down to Anderson, then a third-down completion under duress to J.J. Jones for his first pro catch (although he did have a rush and some kick returns for the Chargers earlier this year). But the 3-yarder didn't move the chains. After a few more quick series by the longtime rivals, 2018 was in the books.