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."