The collapse started innocuously, if familiarly, for the New York Jets in Thursday night’s 49-19 rout at the hands of the New England Patriots.
With the Thanksgiving meeting between the division rivals still scoreless midway through the first quarter, beleaguered New York quarterback Mark Sanchez led the Jets offense to the cusp of the New England red zone, where he threw a bone-headed interception. It’s a familiar sight for those who have grown accustomed to watching Sanchez take points out of his team’s hands all season long.
The Jets didn’t know it yet, but that pick signaled the beginning of the end. And it didn’t take long for Tom Brady and the red-hot Patriots, winners of five in a row, to make the Jets pay.
Six minutes and 84 yards after the Sanchez interception, the Patriots took a 7-0 lead on a 3-yard touchdown pass from Brady to Wes Welker. The Jets helped the New England drive with three defensive penalties, two resulting in Patriots first downs.
Disappointing? Yes. Unexpected? Not completely.
What happened next, however, wasn’t normal — not even by New York standards. No, the egg the Jets laid over the subsequent 11:46, as they allowed New England to score 28 consecutive points (including 21 in a one-minute span) and take a 35-0 lead, was a startling lapse that put shame to even the most futile moments in their faceplant of a season so far.
“Thirty-five points in a quarter, I thought that was almost impossible to do,” said Jets coach Rex Ryan, who was almost right — the 35 points tied a Pats’ 2009 mark for the fourth-most points in a quarter in NFL history. “But they found a way to do it.”
It wasn’t just the fact that New York went from tied to down 35 in the time it took to make a beer run at MetLife Stadium, though. It was the way the Jets did it — with play after did-that-just-happen play that had to be seen to be believed against a world-class team that represents everything the Jets can only hope to be.
The Sanchez interception was the catalyst for one of the most self-destructive quarters in recent football history. It didn’t take long for the spool to completely unravel after the Welker score.
Sanchez quickly led the Jets back into Pats territory on the first drive of the second quarter, but on fourth-and-1 from the New England 31, running back Shonn Greene fumbled and Brandon Spikes recovered. On the next play, Brady found running back Shane Vereen on a wheel route that ended up going 83 yards for a touchdown.
Then, over the next 52 seconds, the Patriots would double their lead to 28-0 without their high-powered offense touching the ball.
The first score came on one of the most comical, Keystone Kops-like play many football fans will ever see. Sanchez took a snap from under center, and turned to hand the ball off in the backfield, only to find that he had turned the wrong direction and missed his running back.
So Sanchez improvised — right smack into his own right guard, Brandon Moore.
With nowhere to run and no one to throw it to, Sanchez scrambled and, as he started to slide, ran right into the 305-pound Moore’s backside. The blow sent Sanchez into a pratfall and jarred loose the ball, which Patriots safety Steve Gregory scooped up and returned for a touchdown.
“I’m not a big believer in luck, but that was pretty unlucky,” Sanchez said. “I was just trying to get down. The play was over — just say uncle and do the right thing.”
The nightmare only grew worse on the very next play, when Patriots cornerback Devin McCourty knocked the ball out of Joe McKnight’s arms during a kickoff return, allowing New England wide receiver Julian Edelman to return it for another score.
After the next New York drive led to a punt, Brady and the Pats’ efficient offense, which gained 475 yards on the night, needed just four more plays to score again — the fifth touchdown of the quarter coming on a 56-yard pass to Edelman.
The NFL should have implemented a mercy rule right there, because by then, the game was over. By the half, the Jets had added a field goal, but even Fireman Ed, the embodiment of unyielding Jets fanhood, had left the building.
“I don’t blame them,” Ryan said. “I don’t blame them for booing me. One thing I know about our fans, our fans are passionate. They want to win.”
New York added a couple late touchdowns for posterity, but the lasting memory Thursday was the second-quarter debacle.
It wasn’t all on the Jets, though. As bad as New York has been this year, New England has been just as good of late — and that didn’t make things any easier.
This latest Patriots point-a-thon came just four days after they put up 59 in a rout of the Colts. They’re averaging 47.5 points over their last four games — and, at 8-3, have a three-game cushion in the AFC East heading into the weekend.
That likely locks them into a playoff spot for the 10th time in the 12 years. The win also marked the 200th victory, including playoffs, of head coach Bill Belichick’s career, making him the eighth coach to reach that mark.
“I never made a block, didn’t make a tackle, didn’t throw a pass, didn’t kick a ball — the players won them,” Belichick said of the milestone.
“It’s an honor to coach the group of players that go out there and make the plays to win those games, and that’s what happened today.”
The player most responsible for this win — and many of Belichick’s wins — was, of course, Brady, who threw for 323 yards on the evening as he passed Dan Fouts to move into the top 10 on the all-time passing yards list. With 3,299 yards on the season, Brady became the sixth quarterback to have 10 seasons with at least 3,000 yards passing.
“He’s one of the best in the game, there’s no doubt about that,” Sanchez said of his counterpart. “His players are good, the coaches are good, they have a great scheme each week. They work hard, and one of the most important things is (that) they play real smart.
"They don’t make the mistakes that we made tonight, and that’s why they’ve been so good every year.”
While the Patriots would appear to be playoff-bound, the same can’t be said for the Jets, who likely will need to win out to salvage a chance at reaching the postseason. On paper, it’s doable, with all of the Jets’ remaining opponents currently below .500. But after watching the disparity in talent between the haves and have-nots play out on the field Thursday, it’s hard to imagine that’s a realistic goal.
“I’m not thinking about anything about (the playoffs), and we just have to play as good as we can. … That’s the bottom line,” Ryan said.
“However good we can play, that’s what we have to play, and then we’ll see what happens. … We’re about as wounded as you possibly can be, but we’re not dead. We will give everything we have, every ounce of energy we have, to get this thing going.”