The snowball started rolling downhill early at New England’s frosty Gillette Stadium last night. By the time it stopped, the Jets found themselves buried under a 45-3 message that proclaimed the Patriots as the only true big dogs in the AFC East.
Barring a collapse, Rex Ryan’s 9-3 squad, currently positioned in the fifth seed, should make the postseason, anyway. But the embarrassment, made worse as the 10-2 Pats spanked the Jets with late-game gadget plays, will be hard to shake off.
Mark Sanchez threw three interceptions, including his first red zone interception of the year which Tom Brady turned into a 93-yard touchdown drive. And Ryan had a disastrous first half on the sideline that led to a 24-3 lead at intermission.
The only question during a 17-0 first quarter was: Who did the most damage, Ryan and his special teams, or Brady?
Brady produced 17 points, but it was Ryan’s inexplicable decision to challenge a third-down spot at midfield that led directly to BenJarvus Green-Ellis’ 1-yard touchdown run. The Jets converted on fourth down, anyway. But when the drive stalled at the Patriots’ 35, Ryan sent out an ice-cold Nick Folk, who missed his sixth field goal in 11 chances and gave the Pats a short field.
Steve Weatherford’s near-whiff on a 12-yard shank set the Pats up at the Jets’ 33 on the next possession. The defense that had allowed an average of 17 points per game, brought the Pats to fourth-and-3 from the 25. But Brady found Deion Branch slanting past Antonio Cromartie, for his first of four touchdowns and a 17-0 lead.
That ill-advised challenge came into play the next quarter as a Brady-to-Brandon Tate connection pushed the score to 24-3. Having lost his first challenge and needing to keep his last for later, Ryan could not consider throwing the red flag on Tate’s falling sideline catch.
Sanchez finished 17-of-33 for 164 yards and three interceptions, while Brady was 21-of-29 for 326 yards and four touchdowns. The Jets hadn’t trailed by as many points since 1986.