The day began with promise for the Jets, for a small victory, actually a third victory, to end the season on the uptick, take that ember bundle of success with them into the offseason and nurse that ember into a small fire to carry them into 2021.
And for a while, it looked like the Jets might get that job done. They scored to start the third quarter and were suddenly up by 7 points in the Patriots' Gillette Stadium home. But then just as suddenly, they found themselves down by 14 as the Pats pulled away to their 28-14 win. The Jets had to be content with 2-14 instead of 3-13, happy with "two out of three ain't bad."
"They ran a few gadget plays, went hurry-up," said LB Neville Hewitt describing New England's comeback. "We had a missed assignment on one play, they threw a ball to the flat that we should've got down. The game got away from us in the second half. We needed a few stops but they ended up converting and we got behind.
"This is a hard place to win, everybody knows that. You can't have too many mental errors here."
The Jets know that as well as anyone. When they took that 14-7 lead on Josh Adams' 1-foot run shortly after Sam Darnold hooked up with Breshad Perriman for a 53-yard completion, it looked as if they might cure their long drought at Gillette. The7-point lead was their largest in any second half in the last 10 games there, going all the way back to the Jets' 28-21 win in the 2010 playoffs.
But an exchange of punts later, the Patriots, also suffering through a season they didn't expect, shook off their midgame sluggishness of five consecutive punts to scored TDs on three consecutive half-field drives.
Darnold, who had played a strong game to that point, threw two interceptions in an 11:20 span. The first set up the Pats' go-ahead TD, the second, in the end zone with 3:49 to play, finished off the Jets' last chance for Win No. 3.
"I think the turnover definitely derailed us a little bit, the first one, and obviously the second hurt us really bad, so I've just got to take better care of the football," Darnold said somberly, adding about his struggles in 2020, " I didn't play consistent enough, just right off the bat. I think I made too many impulse decisions. I'm going to go back to the tape and figure it out, but those are just my thoughts right off the jump."
Up until then, Darnold was doing good things with an offense that during the game lost their first two rookie draft picks, T Mekhi Becton (ankle) and WR Denzel Mims (concussion) and still had their longtime rivals back on their heels in the midgame. Perriman had 84 yards on three catches, TE Chris Herndon had 63 yards and the TD on a career-record-tying 7 receptions. Ty Johnson and Josh Adams did all right things, taking over the run game with Frank Gore going on IR.
The defense, meanwhile, sacked Cam Newton three times, hit him frequently, and bent but didn't break on those five punt series and for a second it seemed the Gillette jinx was on the run.
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Then came the first of those TD plays, "the gadget," a reverse to WR and former QB Jakobi Meyers, who lofted a 19-yard strike to Newton, who went uncovered out of the backfield and strolled in for the tying TD. Then came the Pats' first TE receiving touchdown this year, to rookie Devin Asiasi, and RB Sony Michel's first career receiving TD.
"They did a great job of switching things up in the second half and just attacking us in some areas we didn't expect them to attack us," S Marcus Maye said. "We were battling. We had to adjust on the fly. It was tough. We just didn't get the result we wanted."
Whether the result had been a W or the L they got wouldn't have stopped the outside speculation about changes ahead as the Jets hobble into the offseason. But Head Coach Adam Gase and Darnold deflected any questions about their futures … to the future.
As Darnold said: "Right now I'm living in the moment. I'm not going to deal with what if this happens, what if that happens."
"I wanted to win this game," Gase said. "I've come up here enough times to have this result. I felt like we had good plans coming in. We had a decent stretch there where we did some good things. We just didn't finish it the right way.
"When you win three in a row, that's a good feeling. It's never easy to do. That's why I was just really hoping we would be able to finish the season out with three in a row. That's what you remember. We weren't able to do that."