The sparse crowd that braved the brutal cold after the snowstorm had risen to its feet, imploring the Jets to make a final stop.
All the Jets needed was to throw up an iron shield along their goal line for one more play and they would've been on the way to a season-high four-game winning streak. Instead, one of those nightmarish reruns began playing out on the frigid Giants Stadium turf. Jets fans could have used a bottle of Tums.
Fittingly, the Jets' day of missed opportunities - they failed to score nine points because of special-teams gaffes - ended with another squandered chance. Matt Ryan's 6-yard touchdown toss to an undefended Tony Gonzalez with 1:38 left capped a 73-yard drive and sent the Jets to a crushing 10-7 defeat. It was their third loss this season in which they coughed up a fourth-quarter lead.
"You only get so many opportunities,'' Strickland added. "We've been fighting and clawing and scratching this whole year, and when it comes down to it, one play that can really turn the season around and give you the opportunity to go for it. And to blow it, there's no worse feeling, I really don't think. It's tough. It's tough."
That feeling likely stung even worse a few hours after most of the players left a somber locker room. With Denver losing and Baltimore winning, the Jets (7-7) could have climbed into a virtual tie with those teams for a wild-card berth.
Instead, they're one game behind the 8-6 Broncos and Ravens and sit in a six-way tie with Miami, Jacksonville, Pittsburgh, Tennessee and Houston. So they're not eliminated mathematically, though even Rex Ryan kind of alluded to their chances as being extremely slim.
"This is a hugely disappointing game," Ryan said. "We thought we had a great chance to make it to the playoffs, but Atlanta found a way to win. When you miss three field goals - and I don't think any of them were Jay's [Feely] fault - that's hard to take. We had some untimely penalties that were very unfortunate."
Although the top-ranked defense didn't close things out, horrific special-teams play and an anemic offense that mustered only a 65-yard TD pass to Braylon Edwards were big factors.
The offense found itself in Falcons territory five times and came away empty-handed. The Jets were terrible in the red zone. They missed a potential 19-yard field goal in the second quarter because Kellen Clemens didn't get the snap down in time. Feely also pushed a 38-yard try to the right to end the half and had a 37-yarder blocked with 4:27 left in the game when James Dearth's snap was too high.
"That's the point that really upsets you, is we were getting great field position," tackle Damien Woody said. "You couldn't ask for better field position. We were basically playing on half a field, and the fact that we couldn't finish those drives off with touchdowns, that was the most discouraging part."
Perhaps, but the Jets still had their shot to close out the Falcons (7-7). After Atlanta picked up a first-and-goal at the 7, the Jets allowed only one yard in the next three plays to bring up a fourth-and-goal at the 6. That's when Ryan hit Gonzalez for the score, finding a hole in the Jets' zone. Strickland, Harris, Eric Smith and Jim Leonhard all were in the area; none made the play.
"It was my fault. I take blame for it," Strickland said. "We were in a zone coverage, and if I would have just sat there like I was supposed to, it wouldn't have been a play. But I kind of got a little influenced by the slot receiver and it kind of took me out of my position where I was supposed to be and left the window open for Gonzalez to catch it."
In his return from a sprained right knee, Mark Sanchez didn't do much, completing 18 of 32 passes for 226 yards. He threw three interceptions, two of which resulting from horrible decisions, throwing late into double coverage. The Falcons cashed one into a 24-yard field goal by Matt Bryant for a 3-0 lead with 6:36 left in the first quarter.
Sanchez was intercepted at the Jets' 43 on their last-ditch drive, which wouldn't have been necessary if the defense had come up with one more stop.
"It's just frustration, the fact that we've been in this situation over and over and over and have not got the wins," Leonhard said. "We're better than that, but at the same time, when it happens as many times as it happens, that's who you are. So we need to get that corrected to become the team that we think we are."