Jeremy Kerley, Shonn Greene and Stephen Hill walk off the...

Jeremy Kerley, Shonn Greene and Stephen Hill walk off the field after losing to the New England Patriots at MetLife Stadium. (Nov. 22, 2012) Credit: Jim McIsaac

It's not certain what was the most comical moment of the Jets' 49-19 loss to the Patriots at MetLife Stadium Thursday night.

It could have been when fireworks were set off after the Jets scored their first points of the game on a field goal by Nick Folk that made the score 35-3 just before the end of the half.

No, scratch that. Unless you're a Jets fan, it had to be when Mark Sanchez fumbled after running into his own man on a botched handoff play in the second quarter and Patriots safety Steve Gregory returned it 32 yards for a touchdown.

It was the signature moment for Sanchez in a first half filled with mistakes, including a key interception in the first quarter when it still was a scoreless game. That was before the Patriots scored 35 points in the second quarter and sent Jets fans home early.

Chants of "Te-bow, Te-bow" were heard as early as 5:45 left in the second quarter with the Jets trailing 28-0.

But Tim Tebow, who revealed after the game that he suffered two broken ribs in the Seattle game on Nov. 11, did not get off the sideline, not for one single snap. He didn't play on the punt team or on offense. But he was the only other Jets quarterback active. Third-stringer Greg McElroy was inactive.

So the Jets went into the game without a healthy backup quarterback.

"I think as the week went on, it seemed to get progressively worse,'' Rex Ryan said of Tebow. "I wasn't going to put him out there. I mean, he'd practiced, but a couple of days ago, you could tell he was hurting. Maybe his breathing was a little different, and I'm standing there like, 'Shoot, I wouldn't play my son if that was the situation.'

"To Tim's credit, he wanted to be there for his team, there's no doubt. If you left it up to him, there's no doubt. I was like, look, if we absolutely have to have him, then we may consider it. But to me, that would be the only way we were going to play Tim.''

Then why was he active?

"The thought did go through my mind to possibly deactivate him,'' Ryan said. "But when he came out here, he felt that if he had to go, then he could get it done, and that was my decision.''

Sanchez, who was coming off one of his best games of the season on Sunday in St. Louis, finished the night 26-for-36 for 301 yards, one TD and one INT.

In the first half, he was 13-for-19 for 100 yards. And one unforgettable fumble.

The Jets already were trailing 14-0 when Sanchez and fullback Lex Hilliard botched what looked to be a handoff. Ryan said after the game that Sanchez committed a "mental mistake" and turned the wrong way on the handoff.

Sanchez tried to make something out of the broken play and started running straight ahead. But he started to slip and ran smack into the backside of Brandon Moore, who was blocking Vince Wilfork. Sanchez went all the way down, the ball fell out and Gregory returned it for a touchdown.

After Gregory scooped up the ball and took off, Sanchez put his head down on the turf and stayed there as the play finished, likely because he just couldn't watch.

"I was thinking of a different play in my head," Sanchez said. "Just a mental error there. So as soon as I realized there was nobody to hand it to, I started to run toward the line and tried to cover it up and just get down and I slid right into Brandon Moore. That was kind of an unfortunate deal there. I'm not a big believer in luck, but that was pretty unlucky."

Sanchez's first mistake was an interception he threw as the Jets were driving for what they hoped would be the first points of the game. It was second-and-6 from the New England 23 with 6:01 left in the first quarter when Gregory picked off a pass intended for Bilal Powell at the 15 and returned it one yard.

"I thought Gregory and their scheme was great," Sanchez said. "I thought he made a great play."

The Patriots followed with a 15-play, 84-yard drive that ended on the first play of the second quarter. Tom Brady hit Wes Welker with a 3-yard touchdown pass for a 7-0 lead.

The Jets had another chance to score on their next drive when they faced a fourth-and-1 at the New England 31.

Shonn Greene was stuffed, though, and fumbled. The ball was recovered by Gregory and the Patriots took over at their own 17. On the next play, Brady hit Shane Vereen with a pass in the left flat that went for 83 yards and a touchdown to make it 14-0 and set the stage for Sanchez's running-into-Moore fumble and a 21-0 deficit.

Ryan said Sanchez will start in the Jets' next game on Dec. 2 against Arizona.

"Mark will be the starting quarterback this week,'' he said, "and we'll see where we go from there."

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