Some Jets were calling their annual visit to Gillette Stadium a "must-win game." Pretty strong stuff for the fifth week of the season. Pretty impossible stuff when considering New England's 29-game home regular-season streak with Tom Brady at the offensive controls.
The Jets surely know how to win in the Massachusetts woods. They started that streak with their win here in 2006. They beat the Pats in '08 (without Brady) and then conquered them one more time in January in the playoffs.
But that was not in the cards today as Brady and the Patriots opened a 10-0 lead and played keepaway from the Jets the rest of the day in posting a 30-21 victory. Win No. 30 and counting.
"I never thought I would be here, losing three straight, but that's where we are at right now," said head coach Rex Ryan. "We've earned it and we've got to get better. I have seen this team, it's a resilient team, and I think we will be right there and I think we will get better.
"We're searching. We'll find the answer. There were some encouraging signs, but not enough of them."
True enough, the Jets, very much road warriors in their first two seasons under Ryan, lost their third consecutive game, all away from home, and fell to 2-3, two games behind New England, not to mention Buffalo, in the AFC East. And now the games get even harder, although the next two, against Miami on Monday night and vs. San Diego a week from Sunday, are both at home sweet home, followed by the bye.
"We're used to winning," said QB Mark Sanchez. "We haven't been on a three-game skid like this in a while — since my rookie year, I'm guessing. This is a little different territory, so we're going to see what guys are made of on this team, and it's my job to get guys ready to play this next week against Miami."
After a closely played first half, the second 30 minutes opened with fireworks. First came Brady's 73-yard hookup with Wes Welker, splitting Jets defenders. Then came the Pats' second turnover in the shadow of the Jets goal line when Calvin Pace punched the ball out of Deion Branch's grasp — except that coach Bill Belichick's replay challenge resulted in a reversed call because Branch's knee was down when Pace first hit him. Then came a short TD pass from Brady to Branch for a 17-7 lead.
Just as quickly, Joe McKnight played beautiful kickoff-return music with an 88-yard runback to the Pats 20. Three plays later, Mark Sanchez found rookie WR Jeremy Kerley for a 9-yard TD strike — Kerley's first catch and TD as a pro — and it was back to a field goal game.
"This was something we had been working on all week, so I was prepared," said Kerley. "I just made my way to the back of the end zone. I'm glad Mark found me."
But the Pats opened it back to 10 with an 11-play, 77-yard drive to BenJarvus Green-Ellis' second 3-yard TD run of the game with 1:20 left in the third quarter. Then they upped it to 27-14 with Stephen Gostkowski's 24-yard field goal with just under 13 minutes to play.
Sanchez and the offense gave Jets fans hope with an 85-yard march to his 21-yard scoring strike to Santonio Holmes. It was Tone's second TD of the season and his eighth in two years as a Jet.
However, the defense needed a big stop but the Patriots moved into Jets territory. Green-Ellis powered his way over 100 rushing yards (he finished with 136 on 27 carries) one play after his 15-yard run lifted the Pats over 400 yards of offense (they finished with 446).
The Pats moved inside the Jets 10 after the two-minute warning, setting up Gostkowski for a PAT-like 28-yard field goal midway between the hashmarks. He put it through to make it 30-21 with 1:02 to play.
How frustrating is it to be 2-3 at this stage? "Very," said guard Brandon Moore. "We're not a losing team, even though our record says we are. I felt like our guys were playing together, playing hard. It felt like we were trying to win the game."
But, added fellow guard Matt Slauson, "We aren't going anywhere. We aren't quitting."
Jets Hang with Pats in 1st Half
Some things were unusual about today's renewal of the Jets-Patriots rivalry in Foxboro today. One was the weather: 81 degrees, sunny and beautiful at kickoff, a changeup from the usual Jets-Pats weather of cold, wind, rain and snow.
Then there were the Patriots' red throwback jerseys from 1985, and the Jets' white jerseys and green pants, a combination they've worn only three other times since 2009.
The white and green defense held the red and white offense on their first possession. But their second produced a 32-yard completion from Brady to Welker to set up Green-Ellis' 3-yard touchdown run halfway through the first quarter.
That marked the sixth consecutive game and the 17th time in the last 18 meetings that the Patriots have scored first against the Jets.
But the D rose to the occasion the rest of the first quarter, applying some pressure on Brady, especially with Ropati Pitoitua getting his first career sack and the rush drawing a holding penalty on backup T Nate Solder on another rush.
However, the offense was in a first-quarter funk, trying different things yet still going three-and-out on its first four series. Thus the Jets ended with no points and a 7-0 deficit. They've now had just one first-quarter TD in their last 13 games in this rivalry and one first-quarter lead in their last 18 games. However, they overcame a 3-0 deficit in their January playoff win here, so perhaps better times were ahead.
But first the Patriots added Stephen Gostkowski's 44-yard field goal to make it 10-0 with 11:15 left in the first half. That drive opened with a missed tackle at the start of a
Then finally the offense started to move. Sanchez found Plaxico Burress over the middle for a 19-yard completion and the visitors' first first down of the game. Two plays later Shonn Greene employed a nice spin move en route to an 8-yard run and their first rushing first down, and then a pair of 5-yard runs got a third chain-mover. Then out of an empty backfield it was Sanchez to Santonio Holmes for 11 yards and a first down at the Pats' 24 and on third down to Plax again for 9 yards to first-and-goal at the 7.
The only way to end such a beautiful drive was with a touchdown, and that's what Greene did, powering 3 yards off right guard for his second TD of the year to cut the Jets' deficit to 10-7 with 3:21 left in the half. The drive's final stats: 13 plays, 78 yards and 7:54 of clock time, their longest drive by time of the season.
That's a lot of time for Brady and the Pats offense to work. They moved to the Jets 23 on a nifty 29-yard timing route to Deion Branch, then to a first down at the 11.
But the Jets D rode to the rescue again, preventing a successful Patriots two-minute drive when Brady's high pass bounced off of Hernandez's hands and into the hands of Antonio Cromartie, who took his third INT of the season out of the end zone for 42 yards to end the half.
Greene had 83 yards on 21 carries (and added 9 more yards on two receptions) and the Jets ran for 97 yards on 25 carries one week after going 19-for-38 at Baltimore. ... WR Derrick Mason's one reception for 7 yards made him the 18th player in NFL history to clear 12,000 career receiving yards. ... Jets had seven three-and-out series in all, the fourth time they've had that many since 1984. The only game they had more three-and-outs was the 1986 playoff game at Cleveland.
Brady's scoring toss to Branch was the 275th TD pass of his regular-season career, tying Vinny Testaverde for eighth place on the NFL's all-time list. ... Brady's 73-yard completion to Wes Welker was the longest by an opponent since J.P. Losman-to-Lee Evans when Buffalo came to the Meadowlands in 2007 and the longest on the road by an opponent since Shaun King-to-Jacquez Green for 75 yards at Tampa Bay in 2000.