Robby Anderson lay down near the Patriots’ sideline after Josh McCown’s final throw fell incomplete. Cramping was the official word for why the receiver was on his back. He was exhausted, which is how the Jets felt Sunday after losing to the Patriots.
The 24-17 defeat ended the Jets’ three-game winning streak and kept them from taking over sole possession of first place in the AFC East. It was such a frustrating day for a team that lost a 14-point lead to Tom Brady and the defending Super Bowl champions, who are 4-2.
The Jets (3-3) are sick and tired of being considered a team that’s tanking and not thought of as playing competitive ball. Although they came up just short against the perennial AFC East champions and one of the best quarterbacks of all time, that was no consolation.
“We’re not trying to close the gap,” Todd Bowles said. “We’re trying to win. We lost the game. No moral victories.”
The season-long issues that have undermined the Jets hurt them again. After bursting ahead to a 14-0 lead on two touchdown passes by McCown, the offense sputtered and the Patriots took over, scoring 24 unanswered points for a 24-14 lead.
“Our offense, we stopped clicking after a little while,” said Jeremy Kerley, whose 31-yard touchdown catch made it 14-0. “If we can put that together for a full four quarters . . . ”
With the Jets trailing 24-14, tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins caught a short pass and scored an apparent touchdown with 8:24 left in the game. A replay review reversed the call, saying Seferian-Jenkins fumbled the ball out of the side of the end zone, causing a touchback.
Commenting on the fumble to a pool reporter, referee Tony Corrente said: “We went through two or three primary looks and then this other shot came up. When the other shot came up, it was just ‘boom, boom, boom.’ It was a pretty quick determination. It was pretty obvious.”
One thing the Jets have said, almost to a man, is that they won’t give up on games. The chemistry in this locker room is too good for that. After losing the touchdown, the Jets were able to get the ball back twice, and Chandler Catanzaro’s 28-yard field goal with 3:40 left cut the deficit to seven.
On fourth-and-16 at the Patriots’ 49 with 20 seconds left, McCown had one last desperate chance to pull off the upset. He tried to hit Kerley deep down the right sideline, but his 47th and final throw fell incomplete. Anderson, who was targeted a season-high 12 times, watched the ball land while helpless on the ground.
“Nothing changed, really. I think we just needed to keep our foot on the gas pedal,” running back Matt Forte said. “When we get up two touchdowns, don’t relax. Not saying anybody relaxed out there. What was working for us, continue to execute those plays and keep going from there.”
Offensive coordinator John Morton had an aggressive game plan from the beginning, going deep against the Patriots’ league-worst defense, especially on third down. Then the momentum changed, the Pats took over and the Jets’ warts began to show.
The Jets struggled to cover tight end Rob Gronkowski, who caught two touchdown passes and made rookie safety Jamal Adams struggle for a second consecutive week. Adams was penalized for face-guarding Gronkowski at the 1-yard line, and Dion Lewis scored the Pats’ first touchdown on the next play. The pass rush couldn’t sack Brady, who had been taken down 16 times this season, and he threw for an efficient 257 yards.
Forte said the running game wasn’t very good (3.1 yards per carry) and that if it had gotten going, maybe it could have taken pressure off McCown.
A familiar set of problems brought down the Jets. Besides the lack of a pass rush or a running game, there was the inability to force game-turning plays, such as when cornerback Buster Skrine dropped an interception.
“We played hard and played fast,” he said. “We’ve got a confident team and good team chemistry. Despite what was going on in the second half, we grew as a team.”
It just didn’t work on the scoreboard.