It was a tale of two halves for the defense, and in the end the hole they dug for themselves proved to be too big to climb out of in the 24-22 loss against Jacksonville on Sunday.
"Maybe we're not one of the best defenses in the league," said LB Bart Scott. "We lost the game. It was in our hands and we lost it."
The Jaguars' opening five-play, 55-yard drive capped by Maurice Jones-Drew's 33-yard TD put the visitors on top, 7-0. It was the beginning of a first half in which the Jets allowed 250 yards to the Jags — the most by an opposing team in any half since Week 13 of last season vs. Denver.
"We didn't have a lot of emotion coming out to start. We were kind of flat," said S Kerry Rhodes. "They went down and scored right away."
Jones-Drew totaled 155 yards on the day, 123 of them coming on his 24 carries, making him the first 100-yard rusher the Jets have allowed all season.
"They hurt us," said CB Darrelle Revis. "Maurice Jones-Drew is a shifty guy, a strong guy — he's like a bowling ball out there. We didn't secure tackles when we needed to and he got loose a couple of times and made big plays."
A Rex Ryan-coached defense hadn't allowed a 100-yard rusher for 43 games or since December 2006 when Chiefs RB Larry Johnson rushed for 120 yards against the Ravens.
"We have to learn how to finish and that's it," said Ryan. "For us to become a great defense, we have to finish."
It didn't help that the Jaguars held the ball for 19:02 of the first half. They scored three offensive TDs and converted five of their seven third-down situations in the first 30 minutes.
But the Jets D rebounded and was as stingy as could be for most of the second half, holding the Jags to 97 yards and zero first downs until the final drive — a 12-play, 80-yarder to set up the Josh Scobee game winning field goal.
"We were a little better in the second half, but none of that matters because when we needed to get off the field we didn't get off the field," said LB Calvin Pace, who got his fourth sack of the season with a first-quarter touch of Jags QB David Garrard after he slid to the turf on a scramble. "You have mental errors. You just let them go 80 yards with ease. That's unacceptable."
"The game was in our hands to lose. We didn't execute," said CB Dwight Lowery who couldn't stand to see the ball go through the uprights as time expired. "At the same time you have a chance to block the kick to win the game."
In a losing effort, LB David Harris led the Jets with nine tackles to give him an unofficial team-leading total of 89 tackles for the season. DE Mike DeVito grabbed three tackles and added his third fumble recovery of the season on a botched handoff attempt between Garrard to MJD.
Safety Jim Leonhard made seven tackles and a blitz sack of Garrard in the third quarter to stall a drive and keep the Jets within 21-13. But the QB of the defense took the blame for allowing the big play on the final drive – a 33-yard pass from Garrard to TE Marcedes Lewis to get the Jags to the Jets 14.
"I was trying to get the coverage switched," said Leonhard. "In hindsight it would have been best to burn a timeout. It was loud. We struggled to communicate, but it was on me."
Losing to Jacksonville is particularly tough because the Jaguars (now 5-4) may end up in the hunt along with the Jets for an AFC wild card.
"We can't worry about the playoffs. We just have to get a win," said DE Shaun Ellis, who had four tackles during his 148th game as a Jet, setting the franchise record for defensive linemen. "It's just that simple. We have to get a win. Playoff talk and all that is out the window. We have to handle our business. We're not doing that."
The loss puts the Jets under .500 for the first time in a season they began 3-0.
"We're 4-5. A lot of great things can happen still," he said. "It's going to take a lot of concentration, focus and a lot of detail work at practice to really just hone everything in. We have another tough opponent this week in the Patriots. They're going to be geared up from the first game when we played them.
"The road doesn't get any easier."