FOXBORO, Mass. -- Mark Sanchez never saw Rob Ninkovich coming. And as the football bounced away, so went the Jets' shot at first place in the division.
With 7:28 left in overtime, Ninkovich got around right tackle Austin Howard. He and fellow defensive end Jermaine Cunningham sacked Sanchez, and Ninkovich forced a fumble that he recovered to seal the Patriots' 29-26 victory.
"We got pressure inside, and I was trying to get rid of the football and didn't feel Ninkovich on the outside,'' Sanchez said. "So he came in and made a great play. I'm trying to get rid of the ball, and that's too bad. You don't see that guy coming.''
First place was right there in the Jets' grasp, and once again, they just couldn't hold off New England.
"We made too many mistakes to beat them,'' Rex Ryan said. "We had an opportunity to win the game. Unfortunately, we didn't get it done.''
Stephen Gostkowski gave the Patriots the lead in overtime with a 48-yard field goal. The Jets were given the ball, per the new NFL overtime rules, but their drive stalled on a play that began at their 40 when Sanchez lost the ball.
The Jets (3-4) entered in a four-way tie for first in the AFC East, and seemed poised to win at Gillette Stadium for the first time since their January 2011 divisional-round playoff victory.
But in an eerily quiet locker room, one prevailing thought was repeated.
"We just weren't good enough," Calvin Pace said. "No woulda, coulda, shouldas. We just didn't get it done."
"We blew it," he said. "They didn't do anything special at all. They didn't create anything. We let them have it."
The Jets' offense began the game in blistering fashion, scoring in the first quarter against the Patriots for the first time since their Thursday night win in 2008. But Sanchez (28-for-41, 328 yards, one touchdown, one interception, four sacks for a loss of 31 yards) didn't find his groove again until the fourth.
For all the Jets' mistakes, they twice were in position to go ahead late in the fourth quarter.
Trailing by three, they reached the Patriots' 25 just before the two-minute warning. And then Stephen Hill dropped the football.
On third-and-4, Sanchez threw a perfect pass to the rookie. Hill, whose propensity for drops has been well documented since training camp, tried to run before he caught the ball and the pass fell incomplete. That forced the Jets to settle for Nick Folk's tying 43-yard field goal.
On the ensuing kickoff, Lex Hilliard forced Devin McCourty to fumble and Antonio Allen recovered to give the Jets the ball at the Patriots' 18. But they lost seven yards on three plays, and Folk's 43-yard field goal put them up 26-23 with 1:37 left.
Then Brady did what he does best, marching his team downfield to the Jets' 25. Gostkowski kicked a 43-yarder as time ran out to force overtime.
It was a shock that the Jets were even in the game that late, considering Sanchez's earlier mistakes. Despite his 328 passing yards, he made some questionable decisions and several bad throws that stalled the offense after a promising start.
Shonn Greene's 1-yard run gave the Jets a 7-0 lead with 8:51 to go in the opening quarter, but McCourty returned the ensuing kickoff 104 yards for a touchdown. He darted past Isaiah Trufant and Garrett McIntyre before blowing by Folk and scampering down the Jets' sideline all the way to the end zone.
The Jets helped dig a hole for themselves early in the second quarter when Greene fumbled a first-down handoff from Sanchez at the Jets' 6 after being hit by Vince Wilfork. Sanchez ran after the ball as it bounced into the end zone and kicked it out of bounds, giving the Patriots a safety and a 16-7 lead.
Field goals of 54 and 21 yards by Folk moved the Jets within three before Gronkowski's 2-yard touchdown catch made it 23-13. Dustin Keller reeled in a 7-yard TD pass from Sanchez with 5:44 left in the fourth, capping a 92-yard scoring drive, and Folk's two 43-yarders put the Jets ahead. But it wasn't enough.
"We knew it was going to be a dogfight," Ryan said. "It stinks being on this end of it."