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Jets lose to Patriots, drop third straight

New York Jets linebacker Jamaal Westerman (55) sacks

New York Jets linebacker Jamaal Westerman (55) sacks New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) during the second quarter. (Oct. 9, 2011) Photo Credit: AP

FOXBORO, Mass. -- Mark Sanchez stood off to the side, watching Rex Ryan search for answers as he discussed the Jets' latest defeat.

The Jets had just lost their third straight, dropping a 30-21 decision to the Patriots at Gillette Stadium, and Ryan was left trying to explain yet again how they went belly-up, a theme that's become all too common for them of late.

"I never thought we would have a three-game losing streak like this," Sanchez said Sunday, moments after a downtrodden and deflated Ryan left the podium. "I hate seeing Rex like that at his press conference, talking about this is one of the toughest stretches. And it is. But God, it's frustrating."

The Jets (2-3) couldn't overcome their slow start offensively and didn't do enough to contain Tom Brady and New England's machine-like offense.

Sanchez threw for two touchdowns, completing 16 of 26 passes for 166 yards, and Shonn Greene had his best rushing output of the season, churning out 83 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries.

Brady threw for 321 yards and a touchdown and was picked off once by a Jets defense that yielded 446 yards to the Patriots. BenJarvus Green-Ellis had a pair of 3-yard touchdown runs and rushed for a career-high 136 yards on 27 carries.

But the key stat is this: The Jets went three-and-out on seven of their 11 offensive possessions, an unfathomable number considering New England (4-1) came in with the NFL's worst defense, yielding 477 yards per game. The Jets were 3-for-11 on third-down conversions and the Patriots were 7-for-14 in recording 26 first downs.

"You have got to convert on third down," Ryan said. "That's the difference. They were 50 percent on their third downs and we were 27 percent."

"You've just got to be sharp," wideout Plaxico Burress said of the Jets' third-down struggles. "You've just got to focus on the little things that are going to put us over the hump."

Said Sanchez: "We've just got to connect. I don't know the reason why we came out so slow. We had probably the best week of practice all year this week. Guys were into it. We knew our plays, we knew the game plan. It was just frustrating."

Even with that, trailing 27-14 early in the fourth quarter, the Jets responded with an 85-yard, 11-play drive to keep them in it. Sanchez finished it off by hooking up with Santonio Holmes for a 21-yard touchdown pass that made the score 27-21 with 7:14 left. But the Jets simply couldn't get off the field defensively, and the Patriots answered with a 13-play, 69-yard drive capped by Stephen Gostkowski's 28-yard field goal with 1:02 remaining.

"We all know this game is going to come down to the fourth quarter, and in the fourth quarter, we didn't get off the field when we were supposed to," linebacker Jamaal Westerman said. "We all know in the fourth quarter, we have to get off the field and help the offense get the ball back, and we weren't able to do that."

The Jets trailed 10-7 at the half, but it could've been worse if Antonio Cromartie hadn't made a nice play on Aaron Hernandez's deflection at the goal line just before halftime. The big tight end bobbled what would have been a sure 11-yard TD pass and Cromartie collected the ball while it was in the air, returning the interception 42 yards as time expired.

Still, the Jets couldn't totally bottle up New England's high- powered offense, which came in No. 1 in the NFL, averaging 33.8 points and 507 yards.

The Patriots took the first possession of the second half and quickly carved up the Jets, getting to the 7-yard line after one offensive play -- a 73-yard strike to Wes Welker, who beat safety Eric Smith over the top.

The Jets nearly caught a break two plays after Welker's big catch. It initially appeared as if Calvin Pace poked the ball out just as Deion Branch was trying to get up and make a move after a 4-yard reception at the Jets' 2. However, after an official review, Branch was ruled down by contact. So rather than the Jets having it at their own 7, Brady got a reprieve.

On the very next play, Branch lost Cromartie on a nice move, faking right and cutting back left along the back end line. Brady easily hit the wide-open Branch, pushing the Patriots' lead to 17-7.

But Joe McKnight's 88-yard return on the ensuing kickoff was just the answer the Jets needed. McKnight's return gave the Jets the ball at New England's 20-yard line, and they needed only three plays to cash it in. Sanchez found rookie Jeremy Kerley -- who beat safety Patrick Chung -- scampering along the goal line and fired a strike for the 9-yard touchdown, Kerley's first as a pro. That made it 17-14 with 11:02 left in the third quarter.

But Green-Ellis scored on a 3-yard run and Gostkowski kicked a 24-yard field goal to push the lead to 27-14 with 12:57 left in the fourth quarter, sending the Jets to another head-scratching defeat. It's become a theme of theirs lately

"It's tough. It's tough to swallow," guard Matt Slauson said. "We never thought we would be in this position with our team. But I think we are getting back on track. We did a lot of good things, things to be optimistic about in the coming weeks. We've just got to keep on getting better, that's all it is."

Said Ryan: "I never thought I would be here, losing three straight, but that's where we are at right now. We've earned it and we've got to get better. I have seen this team, it's a resilient team, and I think we will be right there and I think we will get better."

As Sanchez put it, everyone soon will find out if the Jets are a championship-caliber team. Lately, they've looked like anything but.

"We're used to winning and we haven't been on a three- game skid like this in a while -- since my rookie year, I'm guessing," Sanchez said. "We lost two in a row last year but we bounced right back from it. This is a little different territory. So we're going to see what a lot of guys are made of on this team, and it's my job to get guys ready to play this next week against Miami.

"We'll have an extra day to prepare, an extra day to get guys healthy, and it starts at the quarterback spot. Whatever it is, whatever we've got to do to convert, I've got to make sure we're converting on third down."

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