Updated, 10:33 p.m. ET
New Year's Day in Miami. Who could ask for anything more?
The Jets could. They went into today's game needing the win over the Dolphins plus three other results to reach the playoffs. Their goal was to board their charter flight at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport around 6 p.m. ET not knowing if they had made the postseason.
They never made it that far. QB Mark Sanchez threw a trio of short-distance interceptions — the first two to DE Randy Starks, who became the first opposing D-lineman ever to pick off two passes in a game in franchise history. The three takeaways set up Dan Carpenter's last three field goals that helped propel the Dolphins past the Jets at Sun Life Stadium, 19-17.
And the Jets failed to make the playoffs for the first time in head coach Rex Ryan's three seasons at the Green & White helm.
"It's my responsibility, I'll shoulder the blame," said Ryan. "Eight-and-eight is clearly not what we are trying to get to. We have to look at every aspect of our team, ask ourselves how can we get better. And we'll do that. We don't want to be average. We all know what we're chasing. Clearly we're not there yet and we've got to come up with answers. That's what I've got to do."
Sanchez drove the Jets back down the field after the third of four Carpenter field goals to the Dolphins 10 as the three-minute mark approached, but on third down he threw his third INT, to backup LB Marvin Mitchell on a pass intended for RB Shonn Greene. Mitchell returned the ball 55 yards and Carpenter banged through No. 4 from 44 yards out to make it 19-10 with 2:32 left.
"It doesn't feel good right now," said Sanchez. "We played well at times and in spurts, which is the story of the season. We played well in spurts but just not consistent enough to win and I've got to play better for us to win. I can't throw it to them three times."
TE Dustin Keller saw other issues, in this game and in the season.
"Finishing, finishing for sure," Keller said. "The penalties in the first half definitely killed us. Turnovers, all that stuff just killed us. It all added up to one bad conclusion."
To add insult to the second-half injury, a Sanchez ball batted to LG Matt Slauson appeared to be recovered and returned by DE Jason Taylor, in his last game as an NFL player before retirement, for a crowning touchdown. The replay assistant called for a review of the scoring play, and referee Jerome Boger ruled that Slauson was down by contact so there was no fumble. But the Jets, with no timeouts left, still needed two scores to win in the final two minutes
They got the big score they needed, Sanchez's 10-yard completion to WR Patrick Turner in the front of the end zone, which cut the margin to 19-17 with 1:15 to play. Their hopes and dreams for the day remained alive until K Nick Folk's hopping onsides kick was snagged and taken out of bounds by WR Brandon Marshall. Two kneeldowns and it was over for the Jets in 2011.
"Anytime the season ends, whether it's after the Super Bowl, AFC Championship game, or you miss the playoffs, you've got to figure out how you can help this team," said Sanchez. "We'll come back stronger and better next year. We know we can."
But the Titans Beat the Texans
Perhaps ironic, perhaps coincidental, definitely problematic, it ultimately didn't matter if the Jets had posted a fantastic finish to pull this one out. The other outcome they needed from a 1 p.m. game, a Houston win over visiting Tennessee, never happened as the Titans defeated the Texans 23-22. Then all three of the 4:15 p.m. games produced the results the Jets would have needed to gain their playoff berth, but again, none of that matters.
The Jets came up short in the one task they needed first and foremost, a win over the 'Fins to raise their record to 9-7 and into the hoped-for tiebreaker scenarios. Instead, they finished at 8-8 and out of the playoffs for the first time in three years under Ryan.
The big development in the third quarter belonged to the home team, the one that entered the game 5-10 with nothing to play for but pride and a chance to send Taylor into retirement on a high note. The Dolphins stayed barely a step ahead of the Jets defense on a 21-play, 94-yard, 12:29 drive from their 6 to the Jets end zone on which they picked up eight first downs, five of them on third-down conversions.
"Seemed like a 21-minute drive. I don't think it was but it seemed like it," said Ryan. "Twenty-one plays, I think — it was ridiculous."
"We made the adjustments we needed to make at halftime. We were playing well," said CB Darrelle Revis. "But in the second half we just fell apart."
Miami completed the monster march with a 1-yard touchdown pass from rolling-to-his-left QB Matt Moore to FB Charles Clay. The number of plays and time were the longest numbers by a Jets opponent since at least 1985. And the drive threatened to take the air out of the Jets' playoff sails with 10:27 to play.
They gave up the second Starks INT and Carpenter hit his third field goal from 40 yards out with 7:11 to play to increase the hosts' lead to 16-10. And the end of the season was on.
Close First Half vs. a Tough Foe
The Jets lost the toss, Miami deferred, and that was a good call since the Jets went three-and-out on their opening drive. One small achievement: On the game's first play Greene ran for one yard, giving him exactly 1,000 rushing yards for the season and the first four-figure game of his three-year career.
Then the Dolphins, with Moore again at the controls, moved into Carpenter's field goal range. Carpenter hit down the middle from 44 yards out, making him 10-for-10 career vs. the Jets, and the 'Fins struck first for a 3-0 lead 5½ minutes into the game.
Think the Jets weren't into this one? Think again. The Jets proceeded to drive 77 yards on eight plays to the 14th career TD hookup between Sanchez and TE Dustin Keller, a 1-yard rollout off of play action on which Sanchez found Keller alone in the corner of the end zone. The big play on the drive: WR Jeremy Kerley's 41-yard connection with a wide-open TE Matt Mulligan out of the Wildcat.
The Green & White exchanged punts with the Aqua & Coral, then were back in business by the end of the fourth quarter after CB Antonio Cromartie leaped and picked off a Moore pass intended for Brian Hartline at Miami's 43. It was Cro's fourth interception of the year, tying him for the team lead with CB Darrelle Revis and LB David Harris.
Again the teams exchanged punts (Miami's coming after a 28-yard gash up the middle by RB Steve Slaton). Then the Jets went on the march again.
They moved from their 18 into the red zone, with the big play a Sanchez-to-Kerley connection for 30 yards on third down, giving Kerley his 10th third-down conversion of the season, second on the team only to Keller's 11. They could penetrate no further than the 13 so Nick Folk came on for a 31-yard field goal and a 10-3 lead with 3:39 left in the half.
And that's where the scoreboard should have rested at halftime. But Sanchez, who got the ball back with 25 seconds to play, gave it back on a screen pass intended for RB LaDainian Tomlinson. But the 305-pound Starks, somehow hiding behind G Brandon Moore, leaped up to snatch the pass and return it to the Jets 40.
"JT got some pressure on me, and Starks was right there," said Sanchez of Taylor's pass rush. "To get intercepted three times on checkdowns is frustrating and it's pretty rare."
From there it was a short trip for Carpenter to boom through a 58-yard field goal on the last play of the half. It was the third-longest FG ever by a Jets opponent and third-longest ever by a Dolphin and it allowed the Jets only a four-point lead at half, despite a 174-97 yardage advantage and a plus-1 turnover differential.
Tomlinson got the 35 yards he needed, then 20 more after that, to climb past Jerome Bettis and into fifth place on the NFL's all-time rushing-yardage list. "It was something I actually wanted to do. It's good to get that individual goal," said LT. "But it's disappointing teamwise to come up short and not make the playoffs."
Keller led the Jets with seven receptions, for 45 yards, while Kerley had 71 receiving yards, 16 rushing, 41 passing, and 26 on punt returns. ... The Jets outgained the Dolphins on the day, 374 yards to 210. ... Sanchez was 21-for-32 passing for 207 yards, two TDs and three INTs for a 65.5 passer rating. ... Moore went 22-for-32 for 135 yards, one TD, two INTs and a 61.3 rating.
With the conclusion of the 4:15 games, all 16 of the Jets' 2012 opponents are known. The NFL will announce the full '12 schedule in April. Here are the Jets' home opponents: Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins, New England Patriots, Arizona Cardinals, Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts, San Francisco 49ers and San Diego Chargers (second place team in the AFC West).
And the eight road opponents are the Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins, New England Patriots, Jacksonville Jaguars, Seattle Seahawks, St. Louis Rams, Tennessee Titans and Pittsburgh Steelers (second place team in the AFC North).