FOXBOROUGH, Mass. - The Jets replaced Rex Ryan with Todd Bowles, and they exchanged Ryan's hyperbolic pregame bluster for Bowles' blunt, businesslike approach. But they were up against the same old Bill Belichick and Tom Brady, whose grip on the AFC East is timeless.
For three quarters, the Jets did almost everything right on their way to taking a four-point lead. The Patriots' No. 1 offense didn't even attempt to run against the Jets' No. 1 defense, and quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick played as if he went to Harvard for a PhD in game management, controlling the clock, scrambling for first downs and converting big third-down passes.
But when the clock rolled over to the fourth quarter, Brady again made the plays that beat the Jets, 30-23.
As Belichick's old boss Bill Parcells once wrote, there are "no medals for trying," and Bowles certainly embraced that message when asked what he would take away from his first head-to-head meeting with Belichick as Jets coach.
"Nothing," Bowles said. "We lost. It was our fault. We fought to the end. It wasn't good enough. They played better situational football than we did. We'll watch the film, correct the mistakes and move on."
If you closed your eyes, that answer was an exercise in "Belispeak" in the way it mimicked the Patriots' coach. It's on to Oakland for the Jets. But where Ryan once emoted in over-the-top fashion on these occasions, Bowles kept a tight lid on emotions that were every bit as intense beneath his placid surface.
"Nobody wants to lose, especially us," Bowles said. "But we've got to get over it. It's one game. We're 4-2 . . . We should be upset we lost. Show me a good loser, I'll show you a loser."
The Jets arrived at Gillette Stadium with a defensive game plan that limited Brady and a Patriots offense averaging 36.6 points to one first down in the opening quarter. After going three-and-out three straight times at the end of the first half, the Jets' offense adjusted at halftime and scored 10 straight points to take a 20-16 lead.
But Brady hit a key third-and-17 pass to Julian Edelman to sustain a drive for the go-ahead touchdown pass to Danny Amendola and tacked on another TD pass to Rob Gronkowski for a 30-20 lead before the Jets made it interesting at the end with a field goal and recovered onside kick.
"So many games in this league come down to the last few plays or the last possession or last two possessions," Belichick said. "Being able to make those plays at the right time determines the outcome of a lot of games."
Belichick and Brady have been at it for a while now, but they were tested by a Jets team that has shown professionalism and tenacity in the brief time Bowles has been in charge. It was evident in how they fought at the end.
"We know who we are," Fitzpatrick said. "We know the effort we put in every single day, not just on Sunday. We can't really take any moral victories from it. A loss is a loss, but I still love coming to play with these guys on Sunday."
That attitude is pervasive in the Jets' locker room. Wide receiver Brandon Marshall recently spoke to this team's "spirit," and he doubled down on that sentiment after the loss.
"Games like this create championship teams," Marshall said, "or it creates teams that fold. We'll take a day and get this nasty taste out of our mouth, and come tomorrow, we will move on."
The Jets were beaten by Brady and Belichick again. But they didn't fold, and the sense is that under Bowles, their talk about fighting back isn't cheap.