FLORHAM PARK, N.J. – Sauce Gardner can’t feel the pain of 14 consecutive losses to the New England Patriots, but the two he experienced last year stung and hasn’t left his mind.
The Jets’ second-year cornerback recounted the game-changing plays from the two narrow setbacks. They were crushing defeats that left a lasting impression on all returning Jets.
“The two games, both of them were pretty frustrating,” Gardner said Wednesday. “It was truly frustrating. But we got to put it in the past.”
In the first game, Michael Carter II had an 84-yard pick-6 that was negated by a roughing-the-passer penalty on John Franklin-Myers. The Jets lost, 22-17. The second meeting was a defensive clash, tied 3-3 late until Marcus Jones returned a punt 84 yards for a touchdown in the closing seconds.
It may be in the past, but Gardner and the Jets who have been here for at least some of those 14 straight defeats could be bringing a little something extra into Sunday’s game against New England at MetLife Stadium. They want to be the team that snaps that ugly mark.
“Two is too many for me,” tight end Tyler Conklin told Newsday. “I don’t like losing two.”
Gardner said, “Of course that is something that we think about. What is it,14 games or something? I wasn’t here. I don’t think any of the coaches or players were here for all 14. So we can’t really feel the whole 14 … Of course we want to look at the positive. We want to end that.”
The Jets (1-1) are coming off a 30-10 loss in Dallas where they were overmatched on both sides of the ball. That could add more motivation as well. It still comes down to execution and few teams execute better than a Bill Belichick-coached team.
The Patriots (0-2) have not been the same team since Tom Brady left but they remain competitive. Their two losses – to Philadelphia and Miami - have been by a touchdown or less.
When Gardner was asked about the Patriots’ offense, the start of answer sounded like something that Belichick would use as bulletin-board material. But Gardner ended up complimenting them.
“They don’t really have a complex offense,” Gardner said. “It’s pretty simple for like the quarterback to get. Gap scheme, everything is really like simple. But it’s like they excel at it. What they try to do is get other people to mess up and make mistakes. They just do everything right.”
The Jets know they have to be sharp against Belichick’s team.
They were a season-high three games above .500 before both games against the Patriots – and probably the better all-around team. Mistakes and breakdowns cost the Jets. Zach Wilson threw three picks in the first game and was completely ineffective in the second one.
Robert Saleh said the Jets can’t go backward and change that or the overall history of this rivalry. All they can do is focus on this week’s game.
“No one likes losing,” Saleh said. “That’s part of our profession. You’ve got to be able to move on and focus on the moment. If you’re allowing things that you no longer have control over weigh on you, you’re probably not putting your best foot forward to end all the issues that are weighing on you.
“I get it, we acknowledge it, but at the same time it doesn’t define this group today, the group that we have, the 2023 Jets.”
Big things were expected of the 2023 Jets. Some have jumped off the bandwagon after Aaron Rodgers tore his left Achilles tendon on the team’s fourth offensive snap. Some have gone after Jets players on social media.
Gardner, who is very active on social media, de-activated his Twitter account following Sunday’s loss. He received some tweets regarding his defense on Cowboys receiver CeeDee Lamb. Gardner said that wasn’t why.
“I have my reasons,” he said. “It’s not what people thought it was. It’s not because people were saying certain things, that’s not what it was … I’m always mentally good. If you know me, you know it’s hard to get the best of me.”
Getting the better of the Patriots, and finally ending this seven-year losing streak, is Gardner’s sole focus now.