EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — As rookie teammate Chris Jones found himself pressed into his locker by a throng of media members asking about the critical penalty called on him in overtime, Patriots captain Matthew Slater was at his own stall just a few feet away.
“It’s not on him,” Slater said of Jones. “There were 20, 30 plays throughout the game that could have gone differently. You guys are asking Chris a lot of questions, but it’s not his fault. We lost this game as a team.”
The Patriots fell to their AFC East rivals, the Jets, Sunday afternoon at MetLife Stadium, 30-27, in OT. It was the second loss of the season for New England, and snapped a five-game win streak against New York.
The play in question, the one that led to Jones getting so many questions, came during Jets kicker Nick Folk’s winning 56-yard field goal attempt.
Lined up behind Will Svitek, Jones can be seen on replay pushing Svitek forward at the snap and into the Jets’ Damon Harrison. A flag immediately went into the air, and even though Folk’s long attempt was wide left, the infraction meant he’d get a second chance.
Jones became the first player in the NFL to be flagged under Rule 9, Section 1, Article 3 (b) 2, a player-safety rule implemented this season that states: “Team B players [defending a kick] cannot push teammates on the line of scrimmage into the offensive formation.”
“I saw [the flag] right away, but I was saying, ‘Oh, please be on them, please be on them,’ ” Jets coach Rex Ryan said with a laugh.
A clearly miffed Patriots coach Bill Belichick, asked if he felt like it was a legitimate call, said, “We weren’t on the second level when we pushed him, no.”
The rule does not specify where a player is lined up, only that he cannot push a teammate into an opponent.
“It just slipped my mind. It was my mistake and nobody else’s,” Jones said. “I’ve just got to man up and fix it next time. Just trying to get that ‘oomph’ in the middle to get up there.
“The mistake was mine. I take it. I put in on my shoulders. It was all my fault. It was no one else.”
A small group of NFL officials visits every team during training camp, in part to go over any new rules or points of emphasis for the coming season. Jones was drafted by the Texans this year and was with them during training camp.
The defensive tackle, claimed off waivers Sept. 11 from Tampa Bay, has been pressed into a major role after injuries to Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly. The penalty marred an otherwise strong game from Jones, who had two sacks and 10 tackles.
It was the Jets’ own questionable play-calling that put Folk in position to have to try such a long kick initially. (With the Patriots having failed to score on their opening possession, under OT rules the Jets only needed a field goal to win and killing clock wasn’t a factor.) They ran the ball on third and 5 from the New England 36 and lost 2 yards.
But the 15-yard penalty pushed the Jets closer toward the goal line, they attempted three more plays that lost a yard total, and Folk lined up for a 42-yard kick, which he made.
“That’s what I’m talking about,” Ryan said. “This is a big victory and keeps us alive. We obviously have a ton of work to do and need to improve a great deal as a football team, we understand that.
“At the same time, it’s great to get a win, especially against New England.”
Rob Ninkovich also said that Jones’s mistake should not be what gets all the attention.
“There’s a lot of plays we left out there — offense, defense, special teams,” Ninkovich said. “This is a team loss.”
A big part of New England’s problems were on third down, on both sides of the ball.
The Patriots were just 1 for 12 offensively on third down. They posted the same 1-for-12 result in their first loss, against the Bengals, and in two games against the Jets, they’re a combined 5 for 30.
The misses included an overthrow by Tom Brady on their final offensive snap of regulation, when Brady’s attempt for Austin Collie in the end zone on third and 10 went well over his head.
“We just haven’t been good on third down all year,” Brady said. “Obviously, that’s a big problem. You can’t stay on the field and help our defense out. We have to be better in all areas, but we certainly need to be better on third downs and in the red area. There are no excuses. We just didn’t play well.
“I [have] to do a better job out there. That’s what I need to do.”
The return of Rob Gronkowski, who played 48 of 70 offensive snaps in his first game action of the season, the most significant work he’s gotten since suffering his initial broken left arm last Nov. 18, was supposed to help New England in several areas, most notably on third down and in the red zone.
But Brady threw for the tight end five times on third down, with only one completion. On the day, Gronkowski was targeted 17 times, with eight catches for 114 yards.
Brady was not sharp Sunday, and completed fewer than half of his passes for the third time this season — he’s never had more than two such games in a season before.
He went 22 for 46 for 228 yards, had an interception on the second play of the third quarter that was returned for a touchdown, was sacked four times, and hit several other times.
“They’re a good defense,” Brady said of the Jets. “They put pressure on you in all areas. We didn’t do anything offensively to slow them down at all. [The second half] started off poorly. We had a great opportunity to take control of the game and we didn’t.”
New England started the second half with a 21-10 lead, but the 23-yard interception return by safety Antonio Allen cut that gap to 21-17. New York would re-take the lead (it had led, 7-0) before the third quarter was out, with quarterback Geno Smith ending a 52-yard drive with an 8-yard touchdown run to make it 24-21.
On that possession, Smith and New York converted two third downs, including a third and 14; after dropping back, Smith noticed much of the left side of the field was open to him and he took off, stretching for the first-down mark as the Patriots’ Marquice Cole was trying to get him out of bounds.
New York was 11 for 21 on third down, converting its first six chances on the afternoon. It was the first time this season the Patriots’ defense allowed an opponent a success rate over 50 percent.
“We were just not making plays on third down, simple as that,” safety Devin McCourty said. “If you don’t play well enough on third down, it’s going to be a tough day.”