The chippiness from both sides during the week and the good splash of blue in the sea of green in the MetLife Stadium stands were harbingers of the Jets-Giants game to come.
Then the stadium co-tenants went at each other for 60 minutes, their playoff lives hanging in the balance all afternoon.
It wasn't pretty, and as the afternoon wore on, the Jets failed to overcome the longest play from scrimmage allowed in franchise history, slowly lost their grip on the battle and fell to the Giants, 29-14, at MetLife Stadium this afternoon on Christmas Eve.
The coal in the Jets' stocking comes in the form of their 8-7 record after their fifth straight loss to the Giants and their second in two weeks to an NFC East team, while the Bengals were beating the Cardinals to rise to 9-6.
The Jets' playoff hopes aren't dead but again they're on life support as they have lost any control of their playoff destiny. They need a win at Miami on New Year's Day plus a loss by the Bengals to the Ravens at the very least to slip into the AFC's sixth seed and onto the following week's wild card schedule. Tennessee and Oakland, two other wild-card contenders, won to improve to 8-7.
"I'm not going to say we're out of it, or maybe I should," head coach Rex Ryan said. "But clearly, you don't win this game, it's not in your control anymore. So one thing that has to happen. All I can say is we're gong to compete, we're going to go down to Miami, give our best shot, see if it's good enough, and we'll see what happens."
Other Jets were equally disconsolate about today's outcome.
"Usually we play well when we have our backs against the wall and we have to win," said RB LaDainian Tomlinson. "I'm not going to lie to you. It's very disappointing."
"The guys have got to play for pride," said LB David Harris. "Our playoff chances are very dark right now. That's all you can do."
The Jets defense, strong all accept for the 99-yard pass play from Eli Manning to Victor Cruz in the second quarter, forced three punts to start the second half but cracked late in the third quarter on an 81-yard drive to Ahmad Bradshaw's 14-yard steamroller run over S Brodney Pool with 13 seconds left in the frame. That made it 17-7, Giants.
Then on the first play of the fourth quarter, Mark Sanchez overthrew Jeremy Kerley down the middle, with S Kenny Phillips making the sprawling interception and return and return to the Jets 14. That led to Lawrence Tynes kicking a 36-yard field goal to make it 20-7 with 13:18 to play.
Sanchez and the Jets needed the ninth fourth-quarter comeback in the last two seasons to pull this one out. But they fumbled away a golden opportunity to make things much tighter when, from inside the Giants 2, Sanchez fumbled the snap from Nick Mangold forward into the end zone. This time Matt Slauson did not recover. Instead, the Giants pounced on it for a touchback with 8:53 to play.
But on Big Blue's first play, Manning's pass for Nicks was deflected to Harris for his fourth pick of the year. The Hitman returned it to the Giants 11 and the Jets were back in business.
Or were they? A hold on Brandon Moore and a second Sanchez fumble appeared to give the ball back to the Giants. But a second replay challenge by Ryan again converted a QB fumble into an incomplete pass.
Sanchez scrambled to the 1 and then the Jets finally punched in their second touchdown of the day when the QB faked into the line and bootlegged right for his sixth rushing TD of the season to slice the deficit to 20-14 with 7:17 to play. With the TD, Sanchez has more rushing TDs than any other QB in franchise history since Al Dorow had seven for the 1960 New York Titans.
The Giants moved into Jets territory but the Jets defense stiffened once more, stopping three straight runs and forcing one more Steve Weatherford punt. So the Jets got the ball back at their 8 with one timeout left and 2:24 on the clock.
Then in one play it was all over but the shouting when Sanchez dropped back into his end zone, couldn't find an eligible receiver and flipped the ball to tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson while being taken down by DT Chris Canty. For the NFL's safety team, the Jets finally gave up a two-pointer to fall behind, 22-14. T.J. Conley's "onside free kick" was knocked out of bounds and went to the Giants at the Jets 19.
And the Jets' final sign that they had lost their grip on this game was Bradshaw bursting past the line for a 19-yard TD to make it 29-14, still with 2:04 to play.
"We were fighting for our playoff lives. So were the Giants," Ryan said. "They did a better job. Tom Coughlin deserves all the credit. They're the best team in New York. They were this year."
Great Start, but Then...
The green-clad contingent that followed the call to "Green It" in the stands was in fine voice and energy for the start of the game, and the Green & White rewarded their faithful with their third opening TD drive in the last four games.
The big plays were a fourth-and-4 penalty on the Giants for 12 men on the field, second-down conversions to Holmes and Burress and then, with the Big Blue defense drawn to No. 17, Sanchez put the Jets on the board with a 5-yard toss to TE Josh Baker, for Baker's first pro touchdown.
"It feels crazy, man," Baker said of his first pro touchdown. "After I scored I gave a quick prayer, gave thanks for my family and everything. Unfortunately, we couldn't come out on top after that."
The Jets defense pitched three-and-out stops on their first two drives, the first time they'd done that since the 2010 AFC Wild Card Game at Indianapolis.
After another exchange of punts, the Giants moved to the Jets 2 before the defense, led by a Sione Pouha stop of Brandon Jacobs and a Darrelle Revis breakup — the first of many this game, this one coming against Nicks in the end zone to force the G-men to settle for Lawrence Tynes' 21-yard field goal with 11:51 left in the half.
A beautiful special teams play — Ellis Lankster keeping T.J. Conley's punt out of the end zone to start the Giants on their 1-yard line — turned into one of the most disastrous plays ever given up by a Jets defense in franchise history. On third-and-10, Manning dropped back in the end zone, looked left, then right, then hit Cruz.
Cruz proceeded to elude Wilson, Antonio Cromartie and finally Eric Smith on a diving tackle try to complete the 99-yard pass play. It was the longest play from scrimmage ever against the Jets.
"He caught the ball and we missed tackles," said Smith. "If we tackle, they probably don't score in the first half."
"That play was demoralizing," said Harris. "That's all you can say."
After the great start and imperfect middle, the Jets finished on a low note. Sanchez was able to drive the offense from his 13 to the Giants' 19 into the final minute of the half. But the QB took his first of five sacks on the game on third down and Nick Folk, on for the game-tying field goal from 44 yards away, missed right. And the Jets took a 10-7 deficit into their locker room.
Revis had a career day with five breakups of Manning passes. ... Dustin Keller had eight catches for 77 yards, giving him a career high and keeping him in the team lead with 58 receptions. ... Sanchez finished 30-for-59 passing for 258 yards, one TD and two INTs. ... The last time a Jets QB threw 59 times was Vinny Testaverde in the 2000 Monday Night Miracle vs. Miami. The last time a Jet completed 30 passes was Brett Favre at San Diego in 2008.
Harris and rookie Mo Wilkerson each had a sack of Manning. ... The Jets had a 22-11 edge in first downs. ... The Jets were hit with 10 penalties for 95 yards, Giants with five for 45. ... But Ryan won two second-half replay challenges, both turning Sanchez fumbles into incompletions. The Jets coach is now 9-1 on replay challenge reversals. ... Pool left with a "head injury." He said the Bradshaw hit triggered some migraine symptoms that he's had but he's fine.
Manning went 9-for-27 but for 225 yards, 164 of them to Cruz. ... Manning-to-Cruz outdistanced the longest previous scoring pass allowed, a 93-yard Bert Jones-to-Roger Carr hookup at the Baltimore Colts in 1975, and the longest scoring run, Garrison Hearst's 96-yarder in overtime in the '98 opener at San Francisco. ... Cruz averaged 54.7 yards on his three catches, the best average for any opponent with at least three catches in franchise history.