The Jets trudged off the field, losers once more to a Patriots team they had hoped to make a statement against and stake a claim to AFC East superiority. Instead, it was another in a series of defeats that seemed to doom their season. At 4-6, it looked as if all hope had been lost for a playoff berth.
"The higher you go," linebacker Bart Scott said afterward, "the bigger the crash. We are a desperate team."
Thursday marks the third anniversary of that low moment in Jets' history, yet a moment that would eventually lead to the start of a remarkable resurrection. Little did they know at the time that they could somehow recover from a 31-14 drubbing at Gillette Stadium. But Rex Ryan knew his team would keep fighting, and knew there at least would be a chance. They got that chance by winning five of the next six games to qualify at 9-7, and they got all the way to the AFC Championship Game before losing to the Colts.
Here they are, same 4-6 record as in 2009, about to play the Patriots in a nationally televised game and the season on the line once more.
Could there be another miracle finish about to unfold?
No guarantees this time from Ryan, but he is very much aware of the similarities between this year's team and the one from his first year as the Jets' coach. He only hopes the end result is the same.
"What we did in 2009, I think you go back to it as, 'Try to get better each day,' " Ryan said. "Whether it's on the practice field or somewhere else, I think that's in all phases, and that's what we did. We got better as the season went on, and I think that's clearly what we have to do now. If the players can draw from it, that's great. We have a ton of work in front of us."
But there is at least some institutional knowledge to draw from, and that can't be a bad thing. Even though there has been huge roster turnover since that season, there are still several core players still with the team. It starts with quarterback Mark Sanchez, who was a rookie that year and had just come off a woeful four-interception performance against the Patriots when the Jets fell to 4-6.
"I think things started to turn our way towards the end of that season," Sanchez said. "We understood the importance of taking care of the football. We ran the ball well down the stretch. We were efficient in the passing game. We were good on defense and special teams. We really tightened and played our best football towards the end of the year, so hopefully we can do the same."
It's an open question whether the Jets can duplicate that late-season run, especially with the surging Patriots up next. New England is coming off a 59-24 romp over the Colts on Sunday, and New England has been a dominant team this time of the year. Consider: Since the 2010 season, the Patriots are an astounding 18-0 in games played during the second half of the season.
But the Jets have been competitive against the Patriots during the Ryan era, with Ryan winning three of the eight games he has faced Bill Belichick. The Jets nearly pulled off the upset earlier this season, taking the Patriots to overtime. But Tom Brady prevailed in the extra session, finishing off a 29-26 win with the game-deciding field goal drive.
"It's a similar situation, so hopefully we can get as many wins as possible, keep playing hard, continue to play smart and clean, play well in all three phases, and we have a chance," Sanchez said.
Even so, the odds still are against the Jets and plenty has to go in their favor as far as the competition is concerned. It's doubtful they'd be in a position to contend for the division. Even with a win over New England, they'd still be two games back with five to play. The wild card race is loaded, with the Steelers, Colts and Bengals ahead of the Jets, and the Chargers, Dolphins, Bills and Titans all at 4-6.
But the Jets' schedule is favorable after they get past New England. None of their remaining opponents (Arizona, Jacksonville, Tennessee, San Diego and the Bills) have a winning record. They'll need a couple of breaks, but if they get on the kind of late-season roll they enjoyed in 2009, there's still hope.
At 4-6, that's really all you can ask.