The game did not unfold the way the Jets had envisioned. Thursday night was supposed to be an opportunity to cleanse their collective system after Sunday's loss to the Patriots. Instead, the Jets returned to the East Coast with a loss that sent dropped them to 5-5 on the season.
"Losing in the playoffs is probably the worst feeling, but this one doesn't feel good, that's for sure," said QB Mark Sanchez.
The Green & White offense could not match the effort of their defense, scoring only 13 points against a Denver Broncos team that was giving up an average of 26.3 per game. All week the Jets heaped praise on an underrated defensive group of Broncos, who then stifled them throughout the evening.
"We're digging ourselves a hole for sure," said Sanchez. "We're not making things easy on us. But if anyone knows how to do it, we know how to come back and take the hard road into the playoffs."
Sanchez completed 24 of his 40 passes for 252 yards and an interception. The one pick he threw was costly, as Denver CB André Goodman returned it 26 yards for a touchdown to tie the game at 10 with 4:25 remaining in the third quarter.
"I have the ability to play better than this," said Sanchez. "We have a long weekend to take a good, long look at yourself in the mirror, figure out the player you want to be the rest of the season, and move on."
As Sanchez continues working to raise his level of play, his teammates stand behind him. He has completed only 55.6 percent of his passes in the most recent two losses, but the rest of the offense knows that the numbers don't paint a fair enough picture.
"We all have to get better," said LG Matt Slauson. "It's not just him. We have to be able to run the ball better, we've got to throw completions, we've got to hold on to the ball. All across the board we've got to improve."
Several other Jets threw their support behind Sanchez after the 17-13 loss in the Rocky Mountains. Among the most vocal Sanchez advocates has been head coach Rex Ryan, who echoed the sentiments of Slauson and reiterated the need for the offense to improve as a whole.
"Don't just place it on Mark," said Ryan. "It's a combination of things. We've got to get open on our routes, we've got to protect the quarterback, then he has to make the throws. And we have to be able to run the ball."
The most positive signs for the offense came on the first possession of the second half. After receiving the kickoff to start the third quarter, Sanchez led the Jets on an eight-play, 80-yard scoring drive, capped off by Slauson's fumble recovery for a TD.
Sanchez targeted WR Plaxico Burress four times on the drive, connecting on three for 52 yards. He completed another 12-yard pass to RB Joe McKnight, finishing the drive 5-of-7 for 67 yards. It was a promising start after a sluggish first half.
"We adjusted to some of their schemes," said Sanchez. "A lot of the calls we didn't get to in the first, we got to in the second. We were moving it OK. I missed Dustin [Keller] in the end zone, but we got points anyway. In the end, we just have to make better decisions, and that's my fault."
After the game, the despondent Jets were left to deal with the repercussions of a loss that dropped them to .500. It will be an uphill climb the rest of the way, but it's a path the team has traveled before. They now have 10 days before playing their next game against the Buffalo Bills at MetLife Stadium.
"I know the kind of team we have," said Sanchez. "I know it's a resilient bunch. I have to play better, and I know these guys will bounce back. Coach said it best: Our playoffs start with Buffalo. These are all must-wins."