No one gave them a chance but them. And until the final minutes of the fourth quarter, the Jets seemed poised to pull off the improbable.
But then Mark Sanchez threw another interception.
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It's become a familiar script these past few weeks -- a promising drive stalled by either an errant quarterback throw, miscommunication between the QB and his targets, or a catchable ball that slips through the fingers of a wide-open wideout.
This time Sanchez was not to blame for his sixth interception of the season. Instead, tight end Jeff Cumberland's fingers were the culprit in the waning minutes of Monday night's 23-17 loss to the Texans (5-0).
Sanchez (14-for-31, 230 yards) was the target of sporadic boos from an impatient MetLife Stadium crowd. But the final plays of the loss had more to do with his lack of protection and concentration lapses than quarterback ineptitude. Sanchez's pass to Cumberland bounced off the tight end's hands and into the grasp of cornerback Kareem Jackson.
"Could it be more in front of him? Sure,'' Sanchez said of his pass. " . . . Jeff made some great catches for us tonight. He's not going to catch them all. Nobody is. We'll just keep repping it, keep working it and try to put it in front of him.''
The Jets (2-3) battled, but nevertheless, in front of a national audience, the story line was the same for them.
They kept it close throughout, but Brice McCain and Bradie James' split-sack of Sanchez for a loss of 8 yards with 2:01 remaining and the subsequent interception doomed any chance of an upset. Houston ran down the clock and punted inside the Jets' 5 with four seconds left, and Sanchez's final pass fell incomplete after defensive end J.J. Watt deflected it.
Sanchez was 14-for-31, had two interceptions, threw a 27-yard touchdown pass to Cumberland and was sacked three times by the Texans' dominant defense. His counterpart, Matt Schaub, finished 14-for-28 for 209 yards, with one TD and one interception.
Give the Jets credit, however, for hanging tough. Despite their depleted roster and mounting injuries, they held their own against a dominant defense. But in the end, the Texans proved they were the better team.
"That's what you dream about," said Watt, the AFC defensive player of the month, who finished with four tackles and one sack. "It's Monday Night Football. For us to go out there and do that, it's huge."
The Jets' defense had a couple of big stops as well, but the unit's run defense again was poor. Running back Arian Foster churned out 152 yards on 29 carries as the Texans amassed 169 total rushing yards to the Jets' 69.
Mike DeVito said the unit "blew two assignments" -- one of which came on Foster's 46-yard run in the first quarter. "We left the middle open," the defensive lineman said. "You take away that one run and it's a different game."
The Jets -- who were without tight end Dustin Keller and Stephen Hill, both because of hamstring injuries -- had several big plays late in the game: Joe McKnight's 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the third quarter, Jeremy Kerley's 36-yard catch on the right sideline and Tim Tebow's gritty 13-yard red-zone run that put the Jets at Houston's 3-yard line with 12:44 left.
Not to mention a bold onside kick call in the third quarter. It nearly was successful, but it resulted in a Texans field goal that made it 23-14. Rex Ryan took responsibility for it in an attempt to prevent any second-guessing of special-teams coordinator Mike Westhoff.
Safety and special-teamer Eric Smith, however, said, "That's Westhoff. He's always trying to make a play. We had an opportunity, the ball just didn't bounce our way. You can't question it. It's what we call, we've got to go with it. I don't think we'd do it any other way."
The Jets also couldn't contain Watt, who had three passes defended and two quarterback hits. With 7:04 remaining, the defensive end sacked Sanchez for a loss of 5 on third-and-10 from Houston's 35 to force the Jets out of field-goal range.
The shorthanded Jets -- who also were without nose tackle Sione Po'uha and fullback John Conner -- suffered a scare when Pro Bowl center Nick Mangold had to be helped off the field in the third quarter after suffering an ankle injury. Though his return was questionable, he ran back onto the field with his ankle heavily taped in the fourth quarter.
With less than five minutes remaining, the Jets lost backup nose tackle Kenrick Ellis, to a knee injury. Ellis, who started in place of Po'uha, was replaced by first-time NFL starter Damon Harrison.
Wide receiver Clyde Gates also separated his shoulder during the game and left the locker room with his left arm in a sling.
For a second straight week, the Jets committed a costly turnover deep in enemy territory right before the half.
Against San Francisco, Sanchez was sacked and stripped with 1:11 left before halftime, and the ball was recovered by Jason Smith to set up a field goal on the ensuing drive. This time it was Watt who halted the Jets in their tracks.
Using a no-huddle offense, the Jets cruised from their 7 to Houston's 12. But on second-and-5, Sanchez's pass to Kerley was tipped by Watt and intercepted by Brice McCain. The cornerback returned it 86 yards before Kerley tackled him at the Jets' 9.
It took the Texans only three plays to put up another three points on a 27-yard field goal by Shayne Graham, one of three he kicked.
The seldom-used Tebow ran five times for 19 yards, including once for a first down on a fake punt. He threw one pass that fell incomplete.