The New England Patriots have lost football games under Bill Belichick before, but who can remember the last time they lost their composure?
There they were in the sunshine at the Meadowlands, with Tom Brady barking out signals with the play clock at zero, and Patriots receivers juggling pass after pass, and a proud, disciplined team holding and illegal blocking their way to 11 penalties and defeat.
The Jets (2-0) did more than beat the Patriots 16-9 (RECAP | BOX) on Sunday at Giants Stadium. They made their strongest play yet toward ending New England's dominance in the AFC East and made the usually pitch-perfect Patriots look ordinary.
"They just outplayed us, they outcoached us," Belichick said. "They just performed better than we did over the 60 minutes, and I think that was pretty much the story of the game."
The day began with the news that Patriots receiver Wes Welker would be placed on the inactive list, and it only got worse for New England (1-1) from there. Brady was chased out of the pocket and knocked down so much that he never found a rhythm. He threw the ball 47 times, completed just 23 passes, and finished with an interception and 53.1 passer rating.
But it was New England's unsteadiness amid the noise at the Meadowlands that especially stood out. Trailing 13-9 midway through the third quarter and facing a 3rd-and-9 on the Jets' 35, Brady and the Patriots committed back-to-back delay of game penalties that eventually killed a drive and forced them to punt.
Asked about the errors, Belichick said only, "We didn't get the play off in time."
In many ways, New England's struggles only continued its uneven play from the season-opening win against Buffalo, a narrow escape that surely revealed the Patriots' toughness but also exposed flaws.
While New England only gave up 16 points, its defense bent at all the wrong moments, allowing the Jets a quick-strike touchdown to open the third quarter. With so many departed defensive leaders, like Mike Vrabel, Rodney Harrison and Tedy Bruschi, the Patriots have been forced to lean on their depth more than they ever have in recent years.
"It's hard to say," Patriots linebacker Adalius Thomas said when asked if he saw some improvement on defense. "When you lose, you critique everything. We didn't win, so we didn't do well enough."
The Patriots gave up 197 yards in the second half (surrendering only 57 in the first half) and had trouble putting consistent pressure on a rookie quarterback.
"They hit three plays," Belichick said. "The kickoff return, they hit [Jerricho] Cotchery and we missed a tackle, and they hit [Dustin] Keller in the end zone, down the seam. We didn't play those three plays very well, and they did. That's what the Jets do. We gave them an opening, and they took it."
A larger question is this: After eight straight defeats at home at the hands of the Patriots, have the Jets supplanted New England as the best team in the division? It would be foolish to think a Week 2 loss in Brady's second game following knee surgery is decisive.
But if the Jets carry Sunday's performance deep into the fall and winter and eventually win the AFC East, they might look back and remember the day they knocked the Patriots around at home. And the Patriots might look back and remember the same thing.