At the start of the Jets' game against New England on Sunday and again at the end, the Green & White defense looked as if it was going out trick-or-treating as the Monsters of the Midway.
They sacked Patriots QB Mac Jones three times in the first quarter alone — the first time they did that in a home game since 1997 — and six times for the game. They hit him eight times. They yielded one touchdown and 288 yards. Michael Carter II intercepted him once in the second quarter and nearly added a more majestic game-changing pick later in the period. (More on that later).
"Six sacks? Yeah, shout out to the D-line," Carter said after the Jets' 22-17 home loss to the Patriots. "Coverage and the rush were working together. I appreciate them. They made our job a lot easier. The back end, too, did a good job overall, honestly."
But in between the D's start and finish came the scary part of the day before Halloween. Their green-letter day took a turn for the yellow on a flag against DL John Franklin-Myers for roughing Jones after he threw a pass right to Carter, who sped down the right sideline for a seeming 84-yard TD and a possible 17-3 lead at halftime. Instead, the Patriots kept the ball and Nick Folk kicked the second of his five field goals to make it Jets, 10-6, as the teams went into their MetLife locker rooms at the half.
"A 10-point swing, was it?" a fairly tight-lipped head coach Robert Saleh said about how backbreaking that penalty was. "It ended up 17, maybe, if you counted what happened in the second half. So it was a costly penalty. ... I thought we played pretty well in the second half on defense, but it wasn't enough. We've got to play better."
"They called it, so my opinion doesn't matter," Franklin-Myers said, taking the heat after the game. "No explanation's going to reverse the call. So you've got to move on and play football.
"It's the hand we're dealt," he said of the D-linemen's constant concern of costing their teams yards and big plays because of late hits. "It's something we've got to deal with. As a player, I can't slow down. I have to make plays — that's my job. And that's their job, to call those fouls, if they think that's what it is."
But JFM wasn't excusing his expensive goof. "I can be better. I will be better. I know that cost the team," he said. "Regardless of the outcome, I have to be better."
Carter was glum, as one might expect. It would have been his first two-INT game and his first IR TD as a pro. But he was more unhappy for his team than for himself.
"I was just kind of, 'Dang, that was my first touchdown,' so I guess I was frustrated because I knew how big a play that would've been," MCII said. "Did it change the momentum? Probably. But as far as our mentality, you give us an inch, we'll defend it. As far as affecting our mentality and how we played, I don't think it affected us that much. We just went back out there and tried to stop 'em."
See the best images from the Week 8 matchup between the Jets and Patriots.
That was the vibe from the Jets' other defensive players. They acknowledged the adversity of the penalty and QB Zach Wilson's three interceptions but don't think they were about to give up the ghost on their hopes and aspirations for 2022.
"I thought we played well," rookie CB Sauce Gardner said. "We didn't do a great job stopping the run, but we felt as a whole defense we did good. We were in the strike zone a lot, we were down the field a lot. So we regrouped and I thought we played well."
"Losing in general hurts, man, but it's a long season," DL Quinnen Williams said, declining the opportunity to point a finger at Franklin-Myers or the offense. "We've got to get to the ball more. We've got to get sacks, forced fumbles, interceptions. We've got to do more as a defense to put the offense in a better position to score points."
Carter talked about the Jets defense "continuing to lock arms" and "keep having fun" to fix things that the Patriots figured in helping to cause, such as working on not committing costly penalties, not yielding even one touchdown drive, and not missing as many tackles.
"Yeah, I guess that happened as well," Carter said. "During the course of the week, we'll address those and how we can get better, and we'll put on a better show next Sunday."
The entire Jets operation, defense, offense and special teams, will have to become more masterly showmen, since coming up at home in a week are the AFC East leaders from Buffalo.