If people outside the home office didn't believe the Jets could pull off a major victory at New England today, well, the Jets did. Their slogans for the week — "Take the Next Step," "Turn the Corner," "You Gotta Believe," "We Will Persist Until We Succeed" — kept them going into the evening in Foxboro, Mass. And they almost turned the game into one of the top successes of this NFL season.
In the end, however, the Jets' injuries, New England's hex from last season's sweep, heck, that Tom Brady/Bill Belichick aura ... whatever it was, the Patriots prevailed again. But just barely.
After Nick Folk had put the Jets ahead, 26-23, with 1:37 left in regulation, Stephen Gostkowski hit a 43-yarder at 0:00 to send the game into overtime, then hit a 48-yarder to give the Pats a three-point edge on the first drive of the extra session. And when Mark Sanchez was strip-sacked, the game ended in a tough-to-take 29-26 loss.
Because the Bills (3-4) lost to the Titans and the Dolphins (3-3) were on their bye, this late-afternoon game was for first place in the Even-Steven AFC East. Meaning that tonight the Patriots, who had injury issues of their own as they were missing two starting safeties and two starting guards, retook the lead in the division at 4-3 while the Jets, suffering their third straight loss to the Patriots, fell all the way to a third-place tie at 3-4.
"You have to give New England a ton of credit," head coach Rex Ryan said. "That's a heck of a football team. We made too many mistakes to beat them. I will say I'm proud of my team. We had an opportunity to win the game and unfortunately didn't get it done. But we kept fighting. This is a tough place to play, a tough opponent to play and we were right there."
Before the strip-sack by DE Rob Ninkovich, Sanchez was having one of his best games as a pro, completing 28 of 41 passes for 328 yards and a key late touchdown pass to TE Dustin Keller. Jeremy Kerley finished with seven catches for 120 yards, Keller with seven catches for 93.
"It stings, it just really stings," Sanchez said. "We played hard throughout the whole game. We had some real opportunities down in the red zone. We said it earlier in the week — you can't kick field goals against this team. You have to get seven points and we came up short a couple of times and missed some opportunities."
For the Patriots, Brady finished 26-for-42 for 259 yards and two TD passes, both to TE Rob Gronkowski, who had six catches for 78 yards.
The Jets outgained the Patriots for only the second time in their last 18 meetings, 403 yards to 381. But it was all for naught, unless once again the Jets can use a bitter loss to climb off the deck and back to .500 back at home next Sunday against the Miami Dolphins.
"We're going to go toe-to-toe with anybody," Ryan said. "Confidence or not, we've got confidence in ourselves. Maybe the outside world will have more confidence in us, but we have plenty of confidence in ourselves."
Dramatic Second Half
The Jets took the third-quarter kickoff to a first-and-10 at the Pats 11 but couldn't punch it across, so Folk's 21-yard field goal sliced their deficit to 16-13.
Then they almost had a remarkable first recovery of a Patriots fumble in the last five games of this rivalry as Antonio Cromartie pried the ball out of TE Aaron Hernandez's grasp at the goal line.
But replay official Al Hynes called for another look and "after further review," referee Jeff Triplette reversed the call into a catch and down by contact at the Jets 1. It took three plays but Brady found TE Rob Gronkowski open for his second TD catch of the game and the Pats concluded an 83-yard drive and reopened their lead to 23-13 with 2:39 left in the third quarter.
But the Jets weren't dead, just resting. Kerley, who had his first 100-yard receiving game as a pro, couldn't do anything but fair-catch Zoltan Mesko's fifth punt of the game at his 8. Before they ran a play, the Jets went back 4 yards to their 4 for a false start.
Then Sanchez put together the Jets' longest touchdown drive in more than a season, completing nine of 10 passes, including the deal sealer, a 7-yarder to Keller in the end zone to slice the lead to 23-20 with 5:44 to play.
The Jets defense thus faced a fate similar to last year's 30-21 endgame in Foxboro. Needing a defensive stop, they gave up a clock-draining field goal drive. This time, the script was rewritten as the defense finally pitched its first three-and-out of the day and forced another punt. Kerley returned to the Jets 35. And with 4:19, the stage was set for the Jets to tie or go ahead.
With Shonn Green out of the game after suffering a head injury from a hard collision with LB Brandon Spikes on the TD drive, Joe McKnight and Jonathan Grimes were in the backfield and Sanchez continued to find his receivers. However, Stephen Hill dropped a third-down chain-mover near the Pats 10 so the Jets had to settle for a Folk 43-yard field goal. No gimme, but Folk was true, improving to 10-for-10 on the year and knotting the score at 23 with 2:06 left.
Then all the Patriots had to do was now mount another field goal drive, this time with all their timeouts left. But Brady didn't get the shot because Devin McCourty, who wore the early-game hero's laurels with his 104-yard kickoff-return TD, put on the goat horns when he fumbled Folk's kickoff on a hit by Lex Hilliard, with rookie Antonio Allen recovering at the NE-18.
"We hit him real hard and forced a fumble, and I recovered it and that was it," Allen said. "That is how we are supposed to play. We are always supposed to try for a big play, a big hit, pin them down inside the 10, anything. In that case we forced the fumble and recovered it.
The Jets got a few yards on two runs, then Sanchez was sacked for a 10-yard loss. On came Folk from 43 yards again, this time to put the Jets ahead. 26-23.
"They were all pretty tough kicks," Folk said of his three longest field goals. "The 54-yarder was kind of at the end of our range. The 43s, we just needed them. ... It's just a bummer that we lost this game. It's just a bummer."
Brady finally took over on offense with 1:32 left and one timeout, this time needing a field goal to send it to OT. He hit two passes to the Jets 32, then tried for the game-winner to Brandon Lloyd but Antonio Cromartie broke it up at the goal line. Then with five seconds left, Belichick called his last timeout to set up Gostkowski for the tying 43-yard try. He hit it and the game went to overtime.
"It just hurts, man," said S LaRon Landry, who paced the visitors with 12 tackles. "All the hard work we put in throughout the whole game and it came down to the last seconds. We blew it. They didn't do anything special. We let them have it."
Then Along Came Bonus Football
The Patriots won the OT coin toss and took the ball under the modified overtime rules, meaning a field goal on this first drive would not win it automatically. Brady hit two second-down passes for first downs, then Kyle Wilson was hit with an interference call on a third-down incompletion to Aaron Hernandez. Finally the Jets held but Gostkowski was back in range and nailed a 48-yarder to put the hosts ahead, 29-26 3:58 into the overtime.
Now the Jets got their first-ever turn to come from behind in overtime and beat their nemeses.
Sanchez faced one third-down situation but got the chains moved when rookie CB Alfonzo Dennard was caught holding Jason Hill. Then came another big completion to Kerley, for 17 yards. But on second-and-10 at their 40, Sanchez dropped back one last time. He was under pressure low from DE Jermaine Cunningham and high from Ninkovich, who bedeviled him in last year's home loss to the Pats with a pair of second-half INTs.
The ball came loose and Ninkovich recovered. A booth challenge determined that Sanchez was not passing when the ball came out. The game was over. The Jets had lost.
"Overall just a great effort by our guys and that's the way some of these games go – they go down to the wire and you don't end up on top, but I'm proud of our effort and we'll just have to clean it up a little bit and keep fighting," said the Jets QB.
An Ebb-and-Flow First Half
The Jets won their third straight opening coin toss and deferred for the third straight time. The Patriots opened in their up-tempo no-huddle, and the Jets opened with an interesting defensive starting lineup that included third-round rookie Demario Davis at LB and CB Isaiah Trufant in his NFL starting debut lining up across from Wes Welker.
The Patriots opened with a 10-yard catch and a 14-yard run, both by starting RB Shane Vereen. But then the Jets stiffened and forced a punt, and their offense took over, also with some new stuff. Sanchez hit Kerley on 24- and 26-yard passes in the first five plays, and Tim Tebow came on twice for carries.
And then Shonn Greene ended the opening drive uncharacteristically for the Jets at Gillette with a 1-yard touchdown run. With only 6:09 gone the Green & White had opened a 7-0 lead, their first opening-quarter TD and first opening-quarter lead at New England since the Thursday night overtime victory in 2008. It was Greene's fifth touchdown of the season and fourth in the past two weeks.
But as quickly as the Jets took that lead, it even more quickly disappeared as their kickoff coverage team, excellent all year, came up short at a bad time, allowing Devin McCourty to go 104 yards with a game-tying kickoff-return TD just 12 seconds later.
And then after a three-and-out by the offense — the Jets' 10th first-quarter three-and-out in the last seven games vs. the Patriots — and the series returned to its recent normalcy, at least for a while, as Brady led the Pats down the field with four completions, the final one to Gronkowski in the end zone, over the defense of Landry, for a 17-yard score and a 14-7 home team lead.
New England began the second quarter first-and-10 at midfield, but instead of advancing, they moved 10 yards back on a holding penalty, a 0-yard run, an incompletion, and Wes Welker's too-little 16-yard reception.
But on the first play after the punt, Sanchez didn't connect on a handoff to Greene and the ball skittered toward the end zone. The QB did the best thing he could, kicking it over the back line for a safety, opening the Patriots' lead to 16-7.
The Jets D forced a second straight punt and it seemed the Jets had regained that momentum from the opening drive. But it only seemed that way. After Kerley tipped a pass away from Dennard for 22 yards and Keller went 11 yards with his first catch of the day on third-and-10, things looked promising. Then Sanchez tried to find Hill open near the end zone, but he underthrew the pass and Dennard came up with the interception at the Pats 2.
The defense forced a third consecutive punt but the Jets committed a costly facemask penalty on the punt. Triplette called it on "number 54," Nick Bellore, but the replay showed No. 39, Antonio Allen, had his hands on a Patriots player's mask.
The Jets still forced another punt by Mesko, but this one had to be fair-caught by Kerley at his 5. And so the Jets offense faced 95 yards before the two-minute warning.
That is, if they were driving for a touchdown. They didn't make it that far, but they made it to the Patriots 38. That set up Folk for his first field goal try in two games and his second in four games, a mere 54-yarder. And with two seconds left in the half, Folk's kick climbed over the crossbar to cut their deficit to 16-10. If only the offense and the specialists could catch up to the defense, this had the earmarks of a nifty second half in the long Jets-Pats rivalry.
Game NotesIn his past three games at New England (including postseason), Sanchez has passed for 688 yards with 6 TDs, 1 INT and a 104.8 passer rating. He completed six passes for 20 or more yards against the Patriots, equaling a career high. His 328 yards marked the seventh 300-yard game of his career and second vs. NE.
Folk, who already holds the franchise distance record with his 56-yard FG at Denver in 2010 and had that 58-yarder at Philadelphia to end this preseason, now is tied for the sixth-longest FG in franchise annals with his 54-yarder. ... Allen's fumble recovery of McCourty's kickoff was the first Patriots fumble recovered by the Jets in the last five games between the teams.
The Jets led the Patriots in yards from scrimmage at the half, 189-168. It was only the third game in the last 19, since 2004, that the Jets outgained NE at the half. The other two games were the 2010 playoff game and the 2008 Thursday night overtime victory, all three games at Gillette.
McCourty joins Ellis Hobbs (2007), Kevin Faulk (;02), Ricky Smith ('82) and Raymond Clayborn ('77) as Patriots who've returned kickoffs for TDs vs. the Jets. ... Brady's strike to Gronkowski extended his streak to 39 straight regular-season games with a TD pass, third-longest in NFL history. ... Welker second-quarter reception extends his pass-catching streak to 101 games.