The Jets' plans for a rousing return to action from their midseason bye with a vital Game 9 victory teetered on the abyss after two quarters. Then in the second half, the Green & White seemed to take charge — and even took the lead with five minutes to play.
But the Jets' defense, which gave up 250 first-half yards to Jacksonville's Maurice Jones-Drew, David Garrard and company, then came back to throw four three-and-out series at the visitors from the south, ultimately yielded an 80-yard drive to Josh Scobee's 21-yard field goal as time expired as the Jaguars beat the Jets, 24-22.
The loss, coming as the Jets had all intentions of coming off their 4-4 first half and bye week with a win to propel them into New England a week from today and into a second-half playoff push, was a deflating blow for head coach Rex Ryan and his team, which lost for the fifth time in six games and sank below .500 for the first time this season.
"We spent all of our room for error. It's ridiculous," said Ryan. "We're barely breathing for the playoffs. We're going to find out what kind of men we have in this locker room and I know the kind of guys we have. I believe in the character of our football team, and I know New England is going to get all we have. We'll see if it's good enough."
"It stings a lot," WR Jerricho Cotchery said. "I don't even know what to say. We had opportunities to win the game and we're just not getting it done.:
"It's mind-boggling," DE Shaun Ellis said dejectedly. "It's to a point where we've just got to go out there and do it. Right now we're just not living up to expectations. Coming into the year, we felt like we had a team that could really run the table. We haven't really lived up to that."
Trying to get the game back on their side after falling behind, 21-13, at the half, first the defense came on. Jones-Drew, who had 93 rushing yards after 30 minutes, managed 30 yards in the final 30. The D, with David Harris making tackles and Jim Leonhard coming back from an early thumb injury to apply pressure, had those four three-plays-and-punt drives sandwiched around Mike DeVito falling on MJD's fumbled handoff from Garrard at the Jets 1. The visitors had no first downs in those five series.
Then the Jets offense came alive, generating a 60-yard drive to Feely's third field goal of the game from 40 yards out 21 seconds into the final frame, and marching 77 yards with three third-down completions to Thomas Jones' leap for the score from a foot out.
But an all-important two-point conversion came up short when Mark Sanchez tossed a pass to a temporarily open Braylon Edwards in the end zone, who was then plunked hard by safety Reggie Nelson, with the ball falling incomplete.
"That's a bad throw," said Sanchez, who had his ups and downs in completing 16 of 30 for 212 yards. "It's too soft of a throw and it's got to be on Braylon."
"I don't discredit Mark or myself," Edwards replied. "I just credit the safety who put his helmet on the ball in my ribs and the ball came out. It was a great play by him."
Instead of a three-point lead with 5:04 to play, the Jets' hard-fought lead was 22-21. But all the defense needed to do was make one more stand to seal this much-needed victory.
The D couldn't do it.
The Jaguars, starting at their 17, converted two third downs of their own. Then Garrard found big TE Marcedes Lewis open down the middle with safety Kerry Rhodes trailing. Leonhard took the blame for the coverage, saying, "I was trying to get it changed. It was too late. It was on me." Lewis grabbed the pass and completed a 33-yard play to the Jets 14 at the two-minute warning. And suddenly the home team's feelgood comeback story had turned into a desperate situation.
The Jets, who spent their first two timeouts to prevent one offensive and one defensive 12-men-on-the-field call, used their last timeout with 1:48 to go. They wanted Jones-Drew to score — "We called a 'free way' on the play before," Ryan said. "In that situation, you don't have a choice" — to get the ball back for the offense to take one last shot at victory.
But Jones-Drew, upon advice from head coach Jack Del Rio and his staff, fell to the turf at the Jets 1 for first-and-goal with 1:03 to play. And that sealed the Jets' fate. Two kneeldowns later, Scobee, who had missed into the same end zone from 49 yards, was positioned in the middle of the field for the game-winner.
The Jets were very concerned with stopping Jones Drew — "He's the key to the car," said Ellis — and MJD showed why with a highly productive first quarter. The fourth-year back gained 76 yards on nine carries plus a 19-yard reception, and he broke loose for a 33-yard touchdown run on a third-down counter three minutes into the game.
The Jags tried to catch the Jets napping on the ensuing kickoff with Scobee's onside kickoff, but Wallace Wright came back nicely to keep the visitors from recovering. The Jets got the ball and soon after Feely knocked through a 32-yard field goal.
Then on the Green & White's next drive, Cotchery reached to grab a Sanchez pass and turned it into a 32-yard completion, with 15 yards tacked on when a blitzing Nelson made helmet contact with the rookie QB. Three plays later, Sanchez fired to Cotchery on a goal-line out to beat Rashean Mathis for his first TD in six games and give the Jets a 10-7 lead.
Jacksonville regained the lead on a 70-yard drive to Garrard running untouched 11 yards for the TD as Rhodes' blitz was picked up by Jones-Drew. Then the visitors extended their lead to 21-10 on a 26-yard Garrard pass to Mike Sims-Walker, with Rhodes missing the tackle on MSW.
The Jets got three back with a two-minute drive as Sanchez found TE Dustin Keller on three passes for 45 yards, the final one a short toss to the Jags 19 to set up Feely, who punched through a 37-yarder that made it 21-13 at the half.
When it was all over, the Jets were grim in their assessment of their team and their season. Edwards had a strong statement on what he and his teammates need from here on out.
"We need to stop thinking that wins are just going to happen," he said. "We go out there like 'Oh, we have the best rushing attack' and 'Oh, we have a great defense' and 'Oh, we have great weapons,' like that's somehow supposed to win us a game.
"We're a team at the bottom, starting from scratch, with seven games left. It's time for us to look in the mirror. If we don't do something soon, this one is over with."
Sanchez threw two picks, the first to Mathis on the game's first offensive play, a play-action on which he tried to find Cotchery deep down the left side, and the other when he tried to sling a wideout screen to Cotchery but the ball found DE Quentin Groves' hands. Groves returned to the Jets 4, but DeVito's third fumble recovery of the season prevented further damage.
The Jets defense entered the game as the NFL's only team not to have allowed a 100-yard rusher, 100-receiver and 300-yard passer all season. Jones-Drew's 123 rushing yards ended that. ... Jones-Drew's 33-yard TD was the longest scoring run by an opponent since Willis McGahee went 57 yards for Buffalo vs. the Jets at the Meadowlands in 2006. ...
Ellis' start on the Jets' 10th annual Military Appreciation Day gave the venerable DE 148 regular-season games as a Jet, breaking the record for most games by a D-lineman in franchise history, which he shared with Jets radio analyst Marty Lyons.