FOXBOROUGH - The Patriots and Jets finally played a game in which the most gripping drama was not the postgame handshake between the head coaches. A rivalry that has often been overwrought with hype and manufactured drama didn’t need it last night.
But instead of a memorable comeback win, the Patriots ended up with a stinging 34-31 overtime loss when Jay Feely hit a 34-yard field goal with 7:10 left in overtime to snap the Patriots’ four-game winning streak against the Jets and give New York sole possession of first place in the AFC East at 7-3.
The Patriots rallied from a 24-6 first-half deficit to tie the score early in the fourth quarter, then forced overtime in miraculous fashion.
It seemed like the Patriots were headed for a loss, trailing, 31-24, with 1:04 remaining, no timeouts, and the ball at their 38, but Matt Cassel, who was 30 of 51 for a career-high 400 yards and three touchdowns, moved the ball to the Jets’ 16.
The Patriots had one last prayer with eight seconds left and Randy Moss answered it, making an incredible 16-yard touchdown catch falling out of bounds with one second left to tie the score, 31-31. Moss fended off Ty Law, who signed with the Jets earlier in the week.
The Jets had taken a 31-24 lead on a 1-yard touchdown run by Thomas Jones with 3:10 to go, as Brett Favre (26 of 33 for 258 yards and two touchdowns) led the Jets on an efficient and time-consuming 14-play, 67-yard drive.
"They came out, and they were ready to go, and it felt like we didn’t make the plays we needed to early in the game and we just dug ourselves too much of a hole," said Patriots defensive end Richard Seymour.
"But you got to like the fight that the team showed to dig its way out. We left everything out on the field, and give credit to the Jets. They played a tough football game in a hostile environment on another team’s turf on a short week. They made more plays than we did, just a very disappointing loss. But you look around in this locker room and the guys in here and you have to have a lot of respect for your teammates for fighting the way that they did."
Behind Cassel, the Patriots rallied from a 24-6 second-quarter deficit to tie the score, 24-24, on a 47-yard field goal by Stephen Gostkowski with 10:16 left in the fourth quarter.
The field goal was set up by a Jerricho Cotchery fumble that was forced by Jason Webster and recovered by Gary Guyton, giving New England the ball at its 40.
The Patriots pulled within 24-21 on the final play of the third quarter, when Cassel capped a seven-play, 78-yard drive by finding tight end Benjamin Watson for a 10-yard touchdown.
That was redemption for Watson, who stifled the Patriots’ march on the opening possession of the third quarter when he fumbled following a 12-yard gain that moved the Patriots to the Jets’ 22.
Following the TD pass to Watson, Cassel hit Jabar Gaffney for a 2-point conversion to cut the Jets’ lead to 3.
Cassel looked nothing like the callow quarterback who simply managed the game the first time the teams met - a 19-10 Patriots’ victory in Week 2.
"I think he’s shown the league what kind of quarterback he is, and that we can win with him," said linebacker Tedy Bruschi.
The Patriots’ defense made adjustments to slow down Favre and the Jets, forcing three punts in the third quarter, two more than they did in the first half.
The Patriots trailed, 24-13, at the half, but coach Eric Mangini and the Jets had to be shaking their heads trying to figure out how the Patriots were still in the game.
New England kicked off its comeback right before the half. The Patriots drove 68 yards in 1:29, converting a fourth-and-1 from the Jets’ 21, and Cassel hit Gaffney with a 19-yard strike with 15 seconds left in the half.
Any time the Jets and Patriots meet, the coaching chess match is a focal point, and like his team, Mangini had the edge on Bill Belichick in the first half.
Belichick passed up a 41-yard field goal try in the second quarter to go for it on a failed fourth and 3 from the Jets’ 23, which loomed large later in the game. Mangini set up the Jets’ first touchdown by challenging a ruling on the game’s opening possession.
Laveranues Coles did not have control of the ball and both feet inbounds on a third-and-6 reception.
However, the replay challenge revealed that Coles had made the catch for an 8-yard gain, giving the Jets the ball at the New England 37. Six plays later, Favre hit running back Leon Washington, who was lined up at wide receiver, on a screen pass and Washington slithered into the end zone for a 7-yard score and a 7-0 lead.
Following Gostkowski’s second field goal, which made it 10-6, Washington took the ensuing kickoff 92 yards to give New York a 17-6 lead with 9:32 left.
New York added to its lead when Cotchery scored on a 15-yard reception to put the Patriots down, 24-6, with 4:57 left in the first half.
It looked bleak for Belichick and Co., but the Patriots should get credit for battling back and the Jets should get credit for not folding.
However, now sitting at 6-4, Bruschi was in no mood for moral victories, especially against the Jets.
"You can spin it any way you want. It’s still a divisional loss to the Jets," Bruschi said. "I don’t think we’ll find any positives out of this one. Just looking at it as a division loss and trying to get ready for our next game."