This is not how the New York Jets defense is accustomed to feeling. Seeing nearly half a hundred points hung up on the scoreboard by a division rival is not something head coach Rex Ryan and his players ever believed they'd see this season. But on Monday night in a highly anticipated game, the Green & White were beaten, 45-3, by the New England Patriots.
"We just couldn't get anything done," safety Eric Smith said. "We couldn't get them stopped on defense. It seemed like every time we had them in a third-down situation, they would pick it up and make big plays. We didn't execute well, we didn't tackle well, we didn't do anything well."
Smith was replacing starting safety Jim Leonhard as the team's defensive signalcaller after Leonhard broke his leg in practice on Friday. The Jets' defensive quarterback and extension of Ryan and defensive coordinator Mike Pettine was sorely missed, but his teammates won't use his injury as an excuse for allowing New England to rack up strings of 17 unanswered and then 28 unanswered points during two portions of the game.
"I can't say if he was here the game would have been different," Smith said. "New England did a good job executing. They basically did whatever they wanted to."
That execution started with quarterback Tom Brady, who was locked in as he completed 21 of 29 passes for 326 yards and four touchdowns against the NFL's third-ranked defense coming into the weekend. Brady was sacked three times, but besides that there were no discernable miscues from him all night. As a result, the Jets were hurt through the passing game early and often.
"You can't make mistakes on Tom Brady," cornerback Darrelle Revis said. "That's just one thing you can't do. He's a great quarterback and you can't do it. When you do it, he's going to find out. He's going to find out your mistakes and he's going to exploit you."
Many reporters in the locker room questioned the game plan on both sides of the ball, but according to the players, most of it was the execution. This is now the third time this season that the Jets have played subpar football and come up with a loss after an extended period of preparation.
In the Week 1 opener when they had all summer to prepare, they lost to the Ravens,10-9. After their Week 7 bye, they were shut out by the Packers, and on Monday they were coming off a mini-bye week because they played on Thanksgiving night and were held to one field goal.
"We had some mistakes out there," said cornerback Dwight Lowery, back in action after sustaining a concussion against the Browns. "Some of the things that we did, if we had the right mindset going into the game, we could have done a better job on them overall. They just took advantage of the mistakes that we made. The advantages that they took ended up being big plays for them. We didn't prepare how we should have prepared, otherwise we would have put up a better performance."
While the offense's lack of production and the three interceptions thrown by quarterback Mark Sanchez certainly didn't help, the defense didn't force any turnovers or even stop the run as they normally do. BenJarvus Green-Ellis, former Jet Danny Woodhead and a handful of other runners combined for 101 yards and two touchdowns on 26 carries for the Patriots. Jets linebacker Calvin Pace was pretty distraught in the locker room at Gillette Stadium.
"It's a total team loss," Pace said. "It's disheartening, but what can you do? You have to keep playing and get ready for Miami and I'm pretty sure they don't feel sorry for us. So, we move on."
The Jets, who host the Dolphins on Sunday, will again have little time to lick their wounds. In the games that followed their first two losses, the Jets played better football and came out victorious. Tonight was a showdown between two 9-2 teams, but the Jets left Foxboro, Mass., at 9-3.
"It's a punch in the gut," said linebacker and defensive leader Bart Scott. "On national TV, the whole world watching and we didn't represent ourselves and we weren't the true New York Jets. By no means are we flinching. We'll go back to work."