By Danny Picard
FOXBORO -- All season long, the Patriots said it themselves. They fully acknowledged, and at times accepted, the fact that they "bend but don't break."
Trouble was, on Sunday all that bending wasn't good enough.
At first glance, it's hard to fault the defense for Sunday's 28-21 loss. Two of the Jets' touchdowns came on short fields -- a 37-yard drive late in the second quarter after a botched fake punt by the Patriots, a 20-yard drive late in the game after a failed onside kick -- and a third was only for 49 yards as the Jets won the first-half battle for field position. Just one drive, a 75-yarder in the fourth quarter, could be pinned on the defense.
But that sort of bending wasn't what the Pats needed Sunday. There were times -- particularly on the 75-yard drive, which came after New England had scored to cut New York's lead to 14-11 and swung momentum back in its favor -- when they needed stops.
And they couldn't get them.
"They just came out and played more physical than we did," said Patriots linebacker Jerod Mayo. "They were able to establish the run. They were getting four yards, three yards, four yards, four yards, and we just could never get on track.
"I think the coaches did a good job getting us prepared and getting us ready for the game. We just didn't go out and execute."
Like New England's offense, it all came down to a lack of execution on the defensive end.
After the Patriots' most successful offensive drive of the day -- an eight-play, 85-yard touchdown drive that cut New York's lead to 14-11 with 13 seconds left to play in the third quarter -- it was of the utmost importance that Bill Belichick's defense step up and get the ball right back in Tom Brady's hands.
The Jets responded with a five-play, 75-yard drive that resulted in a Santonio Holmes seven-yard touchdown reception in the back-left corner of the end zone, giving New York a 21-11 lead in the opening minutes of the fourth quarter.
It was a drive that saw the Patriots' defense bend a little too much on the second play of the drive, when Mark Sanchez found Jerricho Cotchery streaking over the middle from the left side of the field, for a huge 58-yard play that moved the chains down to New England's 13-yard line, setting up for the dagger.
"We knew we had to answer," said Cotchery. "We had to answer on that drive. On that play, Mark Sanchez and I were on the same page, and it just blew open. I stayed on the move. He expected me to stay on the move, and after that, I was just trying to make a play, and the guys did a great job of rallying around me to try and get me to the end zone. It ended up setting us up with seven points, and that was what we were looking for."
"I don't feel like they had us off-balanced, they just made some key plays," said Patriots safety James Sanders. "We were in a position to make plays at times. We didn't make the plays, and they did. They did what they had to do to come away with the victory."
Danny Picard is on Twitter at http:twitter.comDannyPicard. You can listen to Danny on his streaming radio show I'm Just Sayin' Monday-Friday from 9-10 a.m. on CSNNE.com.