An early acid test for the quality of the Jets' 3-2 start came today at MetLife Stadium against their old rivals, the New England Patriots, equally 3-2 and eager to reassert their dominance in the AFC East.
The Jets had the visitors back on their heels by taking the first 14-0 lead against the Patriots in the new millennium. But Tom Brady and the Patriots righted the ship, scored 24 unanswered points, and then held on for the 24-17 win as the Green & White had a Austin Seferian-Jenkins TD turned into touchback, Patriots ball, after replay review, then could add only a field goal and finally came up a half field short of a tying TD before running out of downs and time.
The Jets, bidding with a win to take sole possession of first place in the division for the first time since 2010, fell to fourth at 3-3 behind the 4-2 Patriots and 3-2 Dolphins, who won at Atlanta, and 3-2 Bills, on their bye week.. Here are nine takeaways on the hard-fought loss:
1. Fast Start
Bowles' preached it, OC John Morton coached it up during the week, and the Jets began fast with the game's opening drive, moving 88 yards on 13 plays to Josh McCown's 1-yard play-action toss to Austin Seferian-Jenkins for the 7-0 lead not even 6 minutes into the game. The big play on the drive: McCown's under-pressure 30-yard heave to Jeremy Kerley, who caught his 18th pass on 18 targets at the Patriots' 1-yard line. Great start, but could it be sustained?
Tom Brady and the Patriots of course moved the ball some — 34 yards on their first drive to a punt, then 31 yards toward the red zone. But Mike Gillislee, the former Bills RB, was separated from the ball by LB Darron Lee with Buster Skrine coming out of the pile with the ball for the Jets' first fumble recovery vs. the Patriots since 2011. After one quarter, the Jets' 7-0 lead was their largest after the first quarter vs. NE since '08, their largest at home since '01.
3. While the Iron's Hot
After the takeaway, the offense kept moving on a seven-play, 78-yard drive. Again McCown was under the gun, again he found his man, again it was Kerley. This time Kerley got behind CB Malcolm Butler, pulled the pass in and had only turf in front of him for a 31-yard score and a 14-0 lead — the Green & White's first 14-plus lead at home in the second quarter against the Pats since 1998. Still early, but getting later.
4. Patriots' Way
You knew the visitors from up I-95 wouldn't be silent for long. Brady completed three of four (the incompletion was Skrine's dropped INT in NE territory), then TE Rob Gronkowski forced rookie S Jamal Adams into a 24-yard pass interference call, setting up Dion Lewis' 1-yard keeper for a TD to cut the lead to 14-7. But on the Pats' next drive, Brady with time loaded up and tried to find WR Phillip Dorsett deep down the middle. Instead he found Skrine for the interception.
Top Gameday Images from MetLife Stadium
5. Offense Gets Sluggish
The Jets offense, bogged down after the first two scoring drives, punted again, but on this drive the Pats could get close enough only for Stephen Gostkowski's missed 43-yard field goal try, giving the hosts a golden opportunity with 1:07 left in the first half and the ball at their 37. But McCown committed his first faux pas(s) of the game, a Butler INT, that enabled the Pats to move to Brady's 2-yard sling to Gronkowski past Adams to tie it at 14.
6. Taking the Lead Away
After striking to end the first half, New England got the ball to start the second and made the Jets pay with a 75-yard drive to another Brady-to-Gronkowski hookup, this one past also Adams and covering 33 yards. It was Gronk's third two-TD game in his career vs. the Jets, with the first two coming in 2011 and '12, and it gave the Patriots their first lead of the day at 21-14.
7. Crucial Decision
The Jets moved into New England territory as Travaris Cadet stepped up with his first three catches and first rush as a member of the Green & White. But on fourth-and-1, facing a 52-yard field goal try, Bowles opted to go for the first down and instead McCown, under pressure, threw his second interception of the middle periods.
8. On Further Review
It looked as if Austin Seferian-Jenkins had his second TD catch of the game when he tried to barge through two Patriots at the left pylon to cut the Jets' deficit to 24-21. Not so, said Tony Corrente after the booth review. Corrente ruled ASJ made the catch, then lost control of it and didn't regain control until after he landed across the sideline, therefore, touchback. Tough way to lose a score to make it a one-score game.
9. Familiar endgame
Chandler Catanzaro's 28-yard field goal cut the Jets' deficit to 24-17. But the hosts had burned two timeouts earlier in the second half, so when the Patriots got the ball at their 17 with 3:34 to play after the kickoff return, the Jets had only one timeout left.
But the defense forced the Pats to punt and after Kerley's short return minus a hold, the Jets had 1:53 and that timeout left to move 73 yards for a tying TD. McCown and the offense converted one fourth down but couldn't do it a second time and Brady kneeled down once to secure the 24-17 win for first place in the division.