It won't make the Jets feel any better, but at least they're able to keep it close against the Patriots. Last year, these two AFC East rivals split their series with a pair of games decided by three-point margins. The bitter pill in their 27-25 loss to New England on Thursday night is certainly that Rex Ryan's team falls to 1-6, though the real stab in the gut is that the Jets could have easily taken this in a close contest.
The Patriots were not consistent on either side of the ball, and this could have been the kind of statement game that quarterback Geno Smith desperately needs at this point in his career. Smith completed 20 of 34 passes for 226 yards and a touchdown. It was his first game of the 2014 season without a pick. But the Jets found it hard to get into the end zone.
"It was a tough win," Patriots QB Tom Brady said. "They always give us a tough time. They have a good defense, and they bring a lot of pressure on you. We didn't execute great tonight and their offense played pretty well. They had however much time of possession. We need to do a better job on third down, and we're still building. We're 5-2, and we have a lot of football ahead."
That number was 40:54. The Jets had the ball more than twice as long as New England did, and they put together several impressive drives, but it all came down to one last desperate drive at the end of the game. And when Chris Jones blocked Nick Folk's 58-yard field goal attempt with time running out, that was all she wrote.
The concept of a moral victory won't make Ryan sleep any easier tonight, but at least the Jets can say that they gave it a good try. Too bad for them close doesn't count in football.
"It's ridiculous to stand here after a loss," Ryan said with obvious frustration. "It's not where our team should be."
Here are three thoughts from the game:
1. The Jets' coverage woes continue
It's unusual for a Rex Ryan team to look iffy in coverage, but it's been that way for the Jets through most of the season, and it was the same at crucial points in this game. There were times when the Jets were able to shut Brady down and others when his targets shut themselves down with several drops, but the real difference in this game, outside of the end zone repellent the Jets were using in the first half, were a few killer coverage bumbles.
On the fourth play of the game, the Patriots lined running back Shane Vereen wide right, and though the Jets had eight men in coverage, safety Antonio Allen bit hard upfield as Brady rolled right out of the pocket. This left cornerback Phillip Adams on an island he was not prepared to inhabit, and this all happened despite the fact that linebacker Calvin Pace was spying Brady in intermediate coverage. The result? A 49-yard touchdown pass from Brady to Vereen. It wasn't a pretty look for Allen, who's been vulnerable in coverage all season.
“It was all me," he said after the game. "I didn't play the right assignment. It was blown coverage and it should have been half field and I should have said something. I just have to do my job.”
On Vereen's second touchdown, with 4:22 left in the first half, linebacker Demario Davis and cornerback Darrin Walls were caught betwixt and between, as Vereen ran into the end zone from the backfield and caught the Brady strike with little resistance. And as the first half came to a close, Rob Gronkowski ran right through the entire middle of the Jets' defense. Had Gronk not dropped the ball, it could have been ugly.
Oh, wait, it was, two plays later, when Allen was busted for a 32-yard pass interference call as he was covering Danny Amendola on a deep sideline route. It was ticky-tack, but that's the league these days.
Allen also got turned around on the touchdown pass to Amendola that put the game out of reach for Gang Green with 7:49 left in the contest.
“I knew the ball had to go in the end zone," Allen said of that final play. "[Amendola] kind of ran me up a couple of yards and then settled down and brought it back up. I looked to the quarterback and then touchdown. We were in zone coverage and you can’t look at the quarterback in that situation. You know they are in the end zone and the ball has to go in the end zone. I just have to do a better job in playing leverages and keeping people in front of me.”
Allen wasn't the only goat in those situations -- just the most vocal about the Jets' obvious issues in this department.
2. New York's offense giveth ... and taketh away
On their first drive, the Jets got tricky, as is their wont. They ran a little Wildcat, threw Michael Vick out there as a decoy receiver, and showed a three-tight end set. On the Jets' first drive, there was a lot of good movement, especially from Geno Smith, but a holding penalty led to a field goal in the end. You can't bargain with field goals when you're playing the Patriots, especially when your pass defense isn't equipped to cover.
Folk got a lot of practice on this night. The Jets took the ball downfield on drives of 12, 10, 12 and 8 plays in the first half, and had just four field goals from Folk to show for it. The Jets would drive and drive and drive, and a killer penalty or a crucial drop would upend them. It wasn't until there was 8:58 left in the third quarter that running back Chris Ivory jumped to a touchdown over defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson, who was acting as a fullback on the play.
It's a shame, because for most of the game, the Jets were able to execute their offense in a preferred fashion: have the passing game set up off the run, and slam the ball down the defense's throat. New England clearly missed linebacker Jerod Mayo, who was lost for the season with a torn patellar tendon last Sunday, and Ivory ran wild on Bill Belichick's depleted run defense, gaining 107 yards on 21 carries. Chris Johnson added 61 yards on 13 carries, and Smith scrambled for 37 yards on seven attempts. The Pats allowed 124 rushing yards in the first half alone, the first time in Belichick's 31 games as New England's head coach against the Jets that 100 or more yards had been put up in that fashion.
3. Geno Smith has the potential to be a legitimate starting quarterback
Despite his recently reported love of the theater, Smith has exhibited enough base talent and game involvement to be at least a better-than average NFL starting quarterback. Yes, he makes his share of mistakes. He holds onto the ball too long, takes some ridiculous sacks as a result, has occasional trouble reading the field, and can be jittery in the pocket at times.
And while it's tough to call a loss a watershed game for any player, this loss was Smith's potential in a nutshell. He's got the arm to make most throws. He throws well on the run, better than a lot of people gave him credit for when he came out of West Virginia. He played tough in this game, enduring more than one injury based on pressure when his line faltered and his receivers couldn't gain separation. And that's another factor in Smith's development: Outside of Eric Decker and (occasionally) Jace Amaro, the Jets really don't have anyone who can get free from coverage. As Marshall Faulk remarked in NFL Network's pregame show, Smith has handicaps that extend beyond his own attributes and liabilities.
“As a quarterback when you’re young, you need help," Faulk said. "You need to feel like you have to be a facilitator; put the ball in guys hands and they’re going to get the job done. Geno is taking heat because people in New York are expecting him to win football games. With the talent that they have, you can’t win football games by yourself."
At this point, the Jets are losing football games together. Fighting impressively, but that doesn't count in the standings.