Jets mistakes prove costly in loss to Patriots

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Jets mistakes prove costly in loss to Patriots

FOXBORO -- Rex Ryan walked slowly to his postgame press conference and stepped up to the microphone, full of regret.

"Well, ah, you know, ah, I think you, ah, have to, you know, give New England a ton of credit," Ryan said, wiping his face. "That's a heck of a football team. You know, we made too many mistakes to beat them. I think that's it."

The Jets had their chances to win on Sunday but lost to the Patriots in overtime, 26-23. If not for their own self-inflicted errors, they thought, it could be them sitting atop the AFC East at 4-3, not the Patriots.

"You have to learn from the things we messed up on," said Jets defensive end Mike DeVito. "We have to watch the film and bounce back. It is still within our reach, and we control our own destiny. We just have to bounce back and get ready for next week."

The Jets miscues started with Devin McCourty's 104-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the first quarter. The Jets were up a touchdown early, and just seconds later they allowed the special teams equalizer to a team that has struggled this season to get its return game firing. Strike one.

"We just over-pursued," said Jets safety Antonio Allen. "Through the whole week we were reading the wedge and seeing where it was going. It was a special teams breakdown."

Then in the second quarter, Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez and running back Shonn Greene botched a handoff when Vince Wilfork drove Jets guard Matt Slauson into the backfield. Sanchez kicked the resulting fumble out of the back of his own end zone for a safety. Strike two.

"We had some unfortunate errors," said Jets tackle D'Brickshaw Ferguson. "The whole game was a fight. When you're playing an opponent like this and it is a tough game, it's the small things that become really big."

On the Jets' next possession, Sanchez drove the Jets 56 yards before another hiccup. With New York on New England's 36-yard line, rookie receiver Stephen Hill was all alone in the front right corner of the end zone. Sanchez lobbed a fluttering pass through the air and into the wind toward Hill. It died and landed in the hands of another rookie, Patriots corner back Alfonzo Dennard, who was able to camp under the ball for his first career pick.

"It looked like the ball never came out of his hand right," Ryan said of Sanchez's throw.

Strike three. And the Jets hadn't yet made it out of the first half.

The Jets trailed by just six at halftime, somehow. Mostly because the Patriots were not error-free themselves. Nor would they be perfect in the second half. But the Jets continued to screw up at a pace that wouldn't allow them to move ahead on the scoreboard.

They allowed the Patriots to drive 83 yards on their first possession of the second half, including a two-yard touchdown catch by Rob Gronkowski on a play that Ryan said his team practiced defending all week.

At the end of the fourth quarter came the real stinger, when Hill dropped an easy first down deep in New England territory. The Jets had to settle for a game-tying field goal with 2:11 left instead of running off more clock -- and maybe coming away with more points.

"It was just a catch I should have caught," Hill said. "Other than that, that's it."

Fittingly, the Jets finished the game with one final misstep. With the Patriots up three in overtime, Rob Ninkovich got a beat on Mark Sanchez, knocked the ball loose and recovered the fumble.

Jets linebacker Calvin Pace was on the sideline when the Jets made their last, costly error. The play was under review, but he and the rest of his teammates knew what had happened. They had messed up. Again. And though the game was tight, over the course of the day, they had messed up more than the Patriots. Certainly too often to head home with a win.

"They are not the type of team to beat themselves," Pace said of the Patriots. "It just wasn't good enough . . . We missed a golden opportunity. Too many 'should ofs, could ofs, would ofs.' We just didn't get it done."

Curran: Ravens are the Patriots' most bitter rival

Curran: Ravens are the Patriots' most bitter rival

Who has been the Patriots' greatest rival of the Belichick-Brady Era?

There are a few candidates: There's no franchise the team hates more thoroughly than the Jets. The Steelers, just because of franchise tradition, are in the mix but the Patriots have had their way in most of the big games with Pittsburgh. The Colts? It's kind of a big brother-little brother thing. The Broncos? Definitely. But no opponent has provided the gripping games and the mix of animosity and respect that the Ravens have over the past decade. 

The first truly memorable Ravens-Patriots game came in 2007. Brian Billick was in his final season as Ravens head coach and Baltimore -- with Kyle Boller at quarterback -- was on its way to a 5-11 season. But that Monday night epic against the unbeaten Patriots was one of the most gripping games of the Belichick era with the Patriots erasing a 24-17 deficit in the final eight minutes thanks to a Ravens meltdown that included defensive coordinator Rex Ryan calling costly timeouts and Ravens players throwing penalty flags. The Patriots won, 27-24, on a touchdown pass to Jabar Gaffney with 44 seconds left. It was probably the hardest the Patriots were pushed en route to 16-0.

Since then, there was the never-to-be-forgotten 33-14 2009 playoff rout at Gillette, which was probably the low point of the Belichick Era. That was followed by a pair of 23-20 Patriots wins before -- the second of those being a stirring AFC Championship win in the 2011 playoffs when Sterling Moore’s pass breakup and a hooked field goal attempt sent the Ravens home whining. But the Ravens broke Gronk in that game and -- with him hobbling around in the Super Bowl against the Giants -- they came up short, 21-17.

Early in 2012, again in prime time, the Patriots let leads of 13-0 and 30-21 slip away as the Ravens won 31-30 on a 27-yard Justin Tucker field goal at the buzzer. It was the Replacement Ref Game, the nadir of the horrific stretch of time in which we got an eyeful of how bad officiating can really be (thanks, Rog!).

The two teams saw each other again in the 2012 AFC Championship and the Patriots saw a 13-7 halftime lead evaporate in a hail of Joe Flacco throws to Anquan Boldin as the Patriots got out-toughed in a 28-13 loss. Late in 2013, the Patriots gave the Ravens a tremendous 41-7 beating in Baltimore to usher the Ravens out of playoff contention. It was the best win of the year for New England.

And the 2014 AFC Divisional Playoff win for New England was one of the best playoff wins of Belichick Era. The Patriots twice erased 14-point deficits to win 35-31 at Gillette. The Ravens made a public show of complaining about the Patriots formation trickery and saying they’d take it up with the league. Tom Brady chastised the Ravens for not knowing the rules and Ravens coach John Harbaugh -- who’s got a haughty streak in him to say the least -- made sure the rule got changed then spent 2015 running trick formation plays recreationally.

More damaging was the private maneuvering of the Ravens.

Their coaching staff -- specifically special teams coach Jerry Rosburg -- was dropping dimes to the Indianapolis Colts, encouraging Indy to be on alert for football shenanigans, alleging the Patriots monkeyed with the K-ball usage. Harbaugh initially denied any involvement in the mess that ensued after the Colts alerted the league to that concern and the purported deflating of footballs which was “well known around the league.” After it was demonstrated that the Ravens had communicated with the Colts, Harbaugh and the Ravens released a statement trying to establish distance. 

As much as Baltimore wants to maintain its distance, the communication with Indy and the fact that “independent investigator” Ted Wells interviewed both Rosburg and Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees during the DeflateGate investigation shows that the Ravens weren’t just minding their own business in this whole thing.

This will be the first time the teams meet since all that went down and it will be interesting to hear this week if there’s any latent bitterness on the part of the Patriots who -- despite the on-field rivalry -- had a strong relationship with Baltimore at the ownership level with Steve Bisciotti, at the personnel level with Ozzie Newsome and George Kokinis and with the coaching staff. Bill Belichick recommended Harbaugh to Bisciotti for the Ravens head job in 2008.

The surging Ravens have won four of five. They’re 7-5 and leading the AFC North. And -- unlike other teams that traditionally melt under the lights in New England -- the Ravens relish the chance to play the Patriots.

"We have to go up into a hostile place in New England that we really enjoy playing [at]," quarterback Joe Flacco said. "It's going to be another important game in December up there on a Monday night, and it's going to be a lot of fun. I'm looking forward to it, big time."

“Now we’ve got our toughest challenge and we’ll need to play our best football up in New England to win that football game,” said Harbaugh. “We believe we’ll have a chance to do that based on where we are right now. … They’ve got great players, a great organization and they’re always at the top and they’ve earned it. We’ve been honored to be in some big games with them over the years and that’s a place we want to be.”