EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - The silence that spread throughout MetLife Stadium midway through the fourth quarter was as much confusion and befuddlement as it was dissatisfaction.
The Jets were supposed to spend last night punishing the Patriots, using the national television stage to showcase their vast improvement over five weeks ago when they were dominated by BenJarvus Green-Ellis and a bruising defense in a resounding 30-21 Patriots win.
Despite the Patriots reeling from consecutive losses and the Jets feeling like their Super Bowl-bound selves, they switched roles in a matter of minutes on a perfect night for football. The Patriots boat-raced the Jets in the second half, when a hurry-up offense wore down New York and the defense confused Mark Sanchez in a 37-16 win.
Jets coach Rex Ryan, who constantly entertains with trash talk, one-liners, and banter, was rather subdued. He, like his team, was confused at the outcome, completely unprepared for the dressing down.
“We’ve been down this road before but . . . I apologize to our fans, our fans were ready to go, I thought we were,’’ he said. “It’s disappointing. I thought we’d play a lot better. I thought that we’d really improved. And I think we did improve but make those mistakes against that team, there’s no chance.’’
New York’s defense allowed the Patriots to roll up 389 yards. Tom Brady grew more comfortable in the second half and began picking on the Jets linebackers, targeting Ron Gronkowski, who caught two touchdowns, the second for a 23-9 lead late in the third quarter.
Sanchez, meanwhile, appeared unnerved and overmatched despite facing a secondary that had been sliced up by Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger and the Giants’ Eli Manning the past two weeks. His confidence apparently dissipated after the opening drive, when Santonio Holmes grabbed a looping pass and seemed destined for the end zone, only to slip on the FieldTurf and land at the Patriots’ 9-yard line.
One short run and two Sanchez incomplete passes later, Nick Folk missed a 24-yard field goal, and Sanchez was never as effective. The Jets didn’t score an offensive touchdown until 1:20 left in the half when Sanchez cashed in on a 2-yard keeper to give New York a brief 9-6 lead.
That score was tainted, however, because Sanchez called a mysterious timeout with 1:24 left and the Jets facing third-and-goal from the 2. The goal was not only to score, but to burn the clock, and the stoppage in play ensured Brady had 80 seconds to work with.
As expected, the Patriots responded with a deflating 80-yard drive in just 1:11 that culminated with Brady’s first touchdown pass to Gronkowski with 9 seconds left in the half. A Jets defense that spent the week promising to atone for their previous breakdowns looked bewildered.
“I didn’t play well enough for this offense to be successful and win,’’ said Sanchez, who threw two costly second-half interceptions to Rob Ninkovich, one of which was returned for a touchdown. “They [Jets coaches] were talking about taking a timeout here and talk about the play. As soon as I [called the timeout] and I walked over, Rex said, ‘Why did you call timeout?’ and I looked back and said ‘Oh, I can’t do that.’ ’’
Sanchez also was sacked five times while the Jets running game never became a factor.
“We knew what position we would have been in if we had won this game,’’ cornerback Darrelle Revis said. “It hurts bad.’’Gary Washburn can be reached at email@example.com.