EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Bittersweet is what cornerback Logan Ryan called it. Sweet because he scored his first NFL touchdown, bitter because it didn’t matter.
The rookie cornerback returned his first interception 79 yards in the opening quarter, giving the Patriots a 14-7 lead, but hours later his memorable moment was a mere afterthought in the Patriots’ 30-27 overtime loss to the New York Jets.
Ryan made his first start in place of the injured Aqib Talib, who leads the team in interceptions with four.
The Jets had moved from their 20 to the Patriots’ 20, and quarterback Geno Smith had completed six of his first nine passes. A 16-yard completion to David Nelson had given them a first down at the 20, and, after a Chris Ivory run was stuffed at the line, Smith went to Nelson again.
At least that was the plan.
The throw to the right flat was timed perfectly by Ryan in man coverage, and the youngster took off along the New England sideline with an entourage fit for Justin Bieber. By the time he reached the Jets’ 20 he was in cruise control.
“He made a good play,’’ safety Devin McCourty said. “It was a big play; we needed it at that point in time.’’
“It felt like it took a long time,’’ Ryan said about the sprint. “I wanted to make sure no one was chasing me and I got into the end zone for my team. Obviously, we came in here with expectations to win; we left a couple of plays out there on the field.’’
Not only was the interception and the TD the first of his pro career, but they occurred in his home state. Growing up in New Jersey and playing at Rutgers for three seasons, the moment provided an added thrill.
“I wasn’t really thinking much about it during the time,’’ the 22-year-old said. “It’s going to be a bittersweet moment because I wish we won. My dad knows I’m a competitor and I only want to win, so it isn’t good enough.
“We’ll celebrate that play, but he knows I got a game this week that I’ve got to get ready for. But it’s always good to be back home. A win would have been much better, but it’s definitely cool to play back near home.’’
Despite making four tackles and breaking up another pass, Ryan wasn’t exactly singing his own praises.
Still, he’s a lot further along than when he was in on a combined 45 snaps in his first four games.
“The standards and expectations are set by the veterans; me personally, I’m just trying to not drop the standards,’’ he said. “I’m definitely a better player than I was in August, but there’s a whole lot more room to grow. I’m still taking it one day at a time.’’
McCourty said that Ryan, along with former Rutgers teammates Duron Harmon (safety) and Steve Beauharnais (linebacker), continue to learn and improve.
“These guys are working hard, and it’s encouraging to see,’’ said McCourty, a fellow Rutgers alum. “But we’ve got to get better, better than we played today.’’
Having Talib, out with a hip injury, would certainly help, but Ryan is among those not looking for excuses.
“The next man just has to step up,’’ Ryan said. “That’s why they drafted me here, to come in and play and do my job along with the other guys. I need to make a couple of more plays out there to help the team win.’’
Yesterday was a good start. Bittersweet, but good.