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SportsColumnistsBob Glauber

Rex Ryan's Jets show perhaps one final flicker of unrealized potential

Head coach Rex Ryan of the New York

Head coach Rex Ryan of the New York Jets looks on prior to a game against the New England Patriots at MetLife Stadium on Dec. 21, 2014 in East Rutherford, N.J. Photo Credit: Getty Images / Jeff Zelevansky

There might be no better microcosm of the Rex Ryan era than Sunday's 17-16 loss to the Patriots in what likely will be the sixth-year coach's final home game on the Jets' sideline.

Reminders of his ultimately failed run were everywhere: The dominant defense early on that bent and ultimately buckled. The ground & pound that was mostly functional but just not good enough, especially in crunch time. And the quarterback play that showed flashes of competence but continued a maddening trend of red-zone inefficiency. And, of course, an interception that changed the momentum and proved the team's undoing.

Sound familiar? Sound like so many Jets games under Ryan, especially as the team began its steady descent after a stunning divisional-round playoff win over the Patriots in the 2010 postseason?

Ever since that stunning win by Mark Sanchez in Foxborough, Jets-Patriots mostly has featured the same script for the beleaguered coach. Which is why there is little chance he will be asked back for the 2015 season and why the Jets need to go in a new direction to find a coach who can harness this team's talents.

A coach who can transform the close-but-not-close-enough cycle that the Ryan era devolved into after his exhilarating first two seasons.

"That's been the story probably the last four or five times we've played [the Patriots]," Ryan said after his team fell to 3-12. "To [the Patriots'] credit, they find ways to win, make big plays at the end of the game to win, and that's why they're where they are right now."

Where the Patriots are right now is where Ryan had hoped to be one day: 12-3, in the running for the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs and knocking on the door of yet another Super Bowl berth. It would be Bill Belichick's sixth Super Bowl appearance since taking over in New England in 2000.

Belichick is the one coach Ryan set his sights on from the start, and he did not hide his contempt for the genius in the hoodie. In the end, though, it was Belichick who had his way with Ryan, winning seven of the last eight games since the 2010 playoff upset.

The two men embraced briefly after this latest close call, saying little before Ryan trudged off to finish the season on Sunday in Miami.

One more disappointing ending for the coach and the players who adore playing for him -- but couldn't play well enough for him to keep his job.

"I think it was a combination of everything -- last home game of the year, last time playing the Patriots, we were going to try to spoil them getting home-field advantage all the way through," defensive lineman Leger Douzable said. "It was a combination of that and also Rex's last -- maybe last -- home game here."

Ryan insisted he didn't dwell on his own situation or take time to breathe in the atmosphere one more time.

"Naw, hell, I wasn't thinking about anything other than I'm a little upset over this game," Ryan said.

There was plenty to be upset about, even if the outcome mattered little in a Jets season that went off the rails in the opening month.

The defense looked terrific early in Sunday's game, pressuring Tom Brady relentlessly in the first half and producing four sacks. Brady had been sacked only seven times in his previous 10 games.

Smith did a nice job protecting the ball and found tight end Jeff Cumberland on a 20-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter to match a second-quarter touchdown by Brady.

The Jets went ahead 13-7 on two field goals by Nick Folk, but at least one of those scores needed to be a touchdown. Continued red-zone problems crushed the offense, and the Patriots eventually made the Jets pay for that futility.

A Smith interception again was the turning point. His pass intended for rookie tight end Jace Amaro was picked off by linebacker Jamie Collins late in the third quarter, and New England converted the turnover into the eventual winning points.

It was a similar script to the Jets' 27-25 loss to the Patriots in New England on Oct. 16. Ryan was furious after that one dropped the Jets to 1-6 and effectively ended what flickering playoff hopes they had. It was another reminder of how promising Ryan's teams could be, but how disappointing they were by the end.

One more example on Sunday in what looks to be his final home game.

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