New York Jets waste chance to establish themselves as real players in AFC

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The New York Jets lost a football game, and so much more.

They blew a chance to exorcise their New England demons and wasted a wonderful opportunity to send a "Here we come!" message to the rest of the AFC and set up a first-place showdown this Sunday against the Buffalo Bills (1 p.m. ET, CBS).

It was all there for the Jets, who played before a capacity crowd Sunday at MetLife Stadium in their most important home game in seven years.

They led by seven points with a chance to pad the lead before halftime, but then came the Stupid Jet Tricks -- the first of three interceptions by Zach Wilson and a penalty for roughing the passer on John Franklin-Myers that nullified a pick-six by Michael Carter II. They were mentally cooked and wound up losing, 22-17, to a vulnerable Patriots team.

The Jets (5-3) tried to write it off as just another loss, but it clearly wasn't. There was a huge emotional investment in this game. They approached it as a shot for redemption, payback for last season's 54-13 embarrassment at Gillette Stadium. They didn't try to hide those emotions. Heck, defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich practically flaunted it, saying how much they were "looking forward" to the rematch.

In the end, they got kicked around and humbled, just like they always do against the Patriots, winners of 13 straight in the series.

"Super frustrating," said wide receiver Elijah Moore, perhaps the only player who skipped cliche answers and portrayed some postgame emotion. "To not get the W, if anyone wanted us to win any game, it was probably this one. We definitely all took it personally."

The Patriots aren't the Patriots of old, but it still takes 60 minutes of mental toughness to beat them. The Jets failed in that regard, not playing well enough for long enough to end the years of futility in the so-called rivalry. As coach Robert Saleh said, "This is a team that feasts on your mistakes." And the Jets gave them enough for an early Thanksgiving dinner.

The Jets struggled with pass protection, allowing 16 pressures. They couldn't run the ball (51 yards), clearly missing injured running back Breece Hall. They couldn't protect the ball, as Wilson morphed into the Wilson of early 2021 with the giveaways. They tackled poorly. They made mistakes on special teams. They showed no punch in the fourth quarter, which had been their trademark.

They also didn't respond well to the Franklin-Myers penalty, a potential 10-point swing. Wilson called it "a terrible call." Saleh didn't criticize it directly but let his feelings be known. Asked if the officials gave an explanation, Saleh deadpanned, "Yeah. He [Mac Jones] was hit too hard." Franklin-Myers didn't say much; his exasperated look said it all.

The young Jets learned a hard lesson, and it could change the complexion of their season. Barring a big upset next Sunday at MetLife Stadium, the Jets will go into the bye at 5-4, followed by a trip to the Patriots (4-4), who now have new life thanks to the Jets.

"This doesn't take away anything we want to accomplish," Jets defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins said.

But it will test the Jets' resilience. If they want to be considered a legit playoff contender, it's something they must overcome.