Mark Sanchez entered Gillette Stadium on Sunday afternoon prepared, confident and determined.
But when he exited, he had a stinging feeling as the Jets were dealt a heartbreaking 29-26 overtime defeat to the New England Patriots.
With the win, New England improved to 4-3 and claimed first place of the AFC East Division standings. Meanwhile the Jets suffered their first division loss and dropped to 3-4.
"It makes this one hurt a little more, but that's the way these things go," said Sanchez who finished the day 28-of-41 passing for 328 yards with one touchdown and one interception.
On the Jets' opening drive, No. 6 connected with WR Jeremy Kerley on two pass plays, both over 20 yards, which led to Shonn Greene's 1-yard TD that gave the Green & White a 7-0 lead 6:09 into the game.
However, after that stellar start, the next few offensive series weren't as successful. Early in the second quarter, New England got a safety on a misjudged handoff between Sanchez and Greene. Then on the Jets' next series, Sanchez threw an interception, underthrowing WR Stephen Hill who was open near the end zone.
"It was just a little late," the QB said of his interception. "I've just got to get rid of the ball sooner and give Stephen a chance. I tried a little too hard there and just missed it."
The Pats led, 23-13, heading into the fourth quarter and many probably assumed the visiting team was ready to pack it in. Sanchez never felt that way. He led the Jets on a 14 play, 92-yard scoring drive, ending with a 7-yard TD pass to TE Dustin Keller, which trimmed New England's lead to 23-20 with just under seven minutes remaining in regulation. During the drive, the 6'2", 225-pound signalcaller was a near perfect 9-of-10 passing.
"We needed a touchdown and things were opening up for us," he said of the drive's production. "I thought we just stayed with a lot of plays that may not have been open earlier. Maybe their defenders made a good play. Those things happen and sometimes you go through stretches in a game when sometimes it's not working, but that's the most important time to just keep your head up and know that one of those long drives could be just around the corner."
The Jets defense forced New England to punt on its next drive. Sanchez and the offense returned, and on the drive's opening play, the fourth-year QB hit Keller for 21 yards. And while Sanchez couldn't guide the offense into the end zone on this possession, he helped move the ball into Nick Folk's range and the kicker hit from 43 yards out with the third of his four field goals on the afternoon.
Ultimately, the former USC Trojan couldn't get the Jets over the hump. He had a chance in the extra session with the Jets trailing, 29-26, under the two-year-old modified overtime rules. However, on second-and-10 from the Jets' 40, he fumbled the ball while being sacked by New England DE Rob Ninkovich.
"We got pressure inside and I didn't feel Ninkovich on the outside – he came in and made a great play when I was trying to get rid of the ball," Sanchez said. "It's too bad when you don't see that guy coming."
Although he and the Jets showed plenty of resiliency, Sanchez knows he can't have this one back. The effort his teammates displayed was encouraging and he certainly hasn't lost belief that the Jets can still accomplish their season goals.
"It's still right in front of us even after a tough loss tonight," he said. "That's the most important thing, to learn from these games, learn from these experiences, dwell on the positives, improve on some of these negatives and keep fighting through some of these things. We have a good group and I'm excited about our team and what we can do the rest of the season. So we're in a good spot, we'll be just fine and we'll bounce back."