Geno Smith continued to show flashes, but his inexperience cost the Jets big time. Not twice, but three times.
Aqib Talib's interception with 38 seconds left was the third of the game for Smith, and it locked up a 13-10 win for the Patriots Thursday night at rainy Gillette Stadium.
But in a silent Jets locker room, players expressed more frustration about the opponent that the loss itself. "We wanted to beat Tom Brady -- and Bill Belichick," rookie defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson told Newsday. "It hurt."
The Jets lost despite a strong defensive effort against Brady, who was held to 49 passing yards in the second half. Rex Ryan's defense held the Patriots scoreless in the second half and let them convert only four of 18 third-down opportunities. New England punted 11 times and had only nine first downs.
The bad blood between the AFC East rivals reached a boiling point after Talib's interception, on which he danced toward the sideline. Jets center Nick Mangold delivered a low hit out of bounds that angered the cornerback and his teammates.
Patriots defensive back Alfonzo Dennard shoved Mangold from behind, prompting a return shove from Jets tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson. Within seconds, there was punching and more shoving near the Pats' sideline, and the Jets' Willie Colon and Ferguson were ejected.
Mangold said he "of course" thought Talib was still in bounds when he delivered the blow. "I thought it was a good tackle and apparently it was not,'' he said, "and it started a little ruckus."
It also drew the ire of Bill Belichick.
"He got heated about it," Mangold, said. "I was a little surprised by that. I figured he'd have a little bit more poise."
Mangold couldn't make out what Belichick said to him on the field, "but it was a decent amount of yelling."
A dejected Colon expressed regret over his involvement in the fracas and concern that he could face disciplinary action by the league. "Hopefully I don't get suspended," he said. "I was tired of losing and we just can't have it . . . I saw my brothers in there so I went running. I lost my temper. I lost my cool out there and we can't have it. It hurts your team and I know better."
Turnovers also hurt teams. And the Jets had four of them.
Ryan harped on a familiar refrain -- self-inflicted wounds -- in his postgame news conference. "There's no way you're winning that game if you turn the ball over four times," he said.
And despite Smith's willingness to withstand big hits from the Patriots' defensive line, he made critical rookie mistakes when his team needed him most -- down 13-10 in the fourth quarter on the road.
He hit Santonio Holmes on a 10-yard pass across the middle, then delivered a beautifully thrown pass to Stephen Hill, who made an acrobatic 37-yard catch near the Jets' sideline. Thanks to a 5-yard run by Bilal Powell, the Jets faced a third-and-5 at the Patriots' 27. And then came Smith's Mark Sanchez moment.
Smith scrambled toward the left sideline looking for Holmes. But he threw on the run and late, allowing cornerback Kyle Arrington to tip the pass into the hands of Talib.
It was the type of rally-killer the Jets have grown accustomed to during the past two seasons. But thanks to another impressive stand by the Jets' defense -- which kept the Patriots from moving past their own 33 -- Smith returned to the field with the score still 13-10.
"I tried to fit the ball into a tight window and during that time of the game, I've got to be more mindful of the situation,'' said the quarterback, whose second interception came with 4:23 to go. He tried to hit Clyde Gates on a deep pass, but Dennard undercut the route and picked it off.
"We're right in it, got a chance to kick a field goal, possibly tie the game. I just made a decision that ultimately cost my team,'' Smith said.
But perhaps worse than the loss is the uncertainty surrounding Muhammad Wilkerson. The defensive end was carted off the field with an apparent ankle injury and was spotted in the locker room with his right ankle heavily taped with ice. "It's an ankle, I believe," Ryan said. "Hopefully it's not a high ankle . . . but I'm not sure yet."
Smith completed 15 of 35 passes for 214 yards, resulting in a 27.6 quarterback rating. He also was sacked four times for a loss of 25 yards.
Brady also had an off night, completing 19 of 39 for 185 yards and a TD.