EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Much the way it has done all season, the Patriots' secondary stood tall in Sunday's 26-20 overtime loss to the Jets.
Sure, the lasting memories will be of Quincy Enunwa's 48-yard reception in OT and Eric Decker's 6-yard walkoff touchdown catch and subsequent leap, but the members of New England's secondary left some impressions of their own.
Despite missing starting safeties Patrick Chung and Devin McCourty, the defensive backfield shined in the second half. The unit bounced back from a rough start and helped spark a defense that kept the Patriots in a game that seemed as if it was over for the visitors long before Decker's catch.
The Patriots held the Jets to 155 yards in the second half and a mere 31 in the fourth quarter — and though they came up short of the ultimate goal, safety Duron Harmon said he saw something in his teammates.
"I'll say one thing man, we play hard,'' said Harmon, who patrolled the deepest part of the field and finished with five tackles. "We finish. And we finish as a group. Any time you can do that, it's encouraging.''
Harmon said despite the adversity, the defense's confidence never waned.
"It just shows the type of players we are,'' he said. "We don't quit. A lot of teams, or just a lot of people, may have quit being down 14 to a good team like that. We just said we need to stay together, make a few plays, and we did that. We just came up a little short today.
"We were competitive. We fought till the end. Even though things didn't go our way, everybody was out there encouraging each other. I'll take that effort any day.''
Malcolm Butler said there was no time for hanging heads after the Jets had piled up 193 yards and a 10-3 lead over the first 30 minutes. The defense knew what it had to do after intermission.
"It was just going out there playing more aggressive, playing good coverage, setting the edge and filling gaps and stopping the run game a little bit,'' said Butler.
At first it didn't seem as though the second half would be much different than the first as the Jets came out and scored on their first possession on Brandon Marshall's 33-yard catch from Ryan Fitzpatrick.
From then on however, the defense was on point, holding the Jets to one long field goal until the overtime.
Logan Ryan, whose primary responsibility was to cover Marshall (8 catches, 115 yards, 2 TDs), said being shorthanded is no crutch for this team.
"Injuries will never be an excuse for us. We've won with injuries before and we expected to win today, but we didn't execute and that starts with me,'' said Ryan, who held Marshall to four catches for 67 yards in Week 7, a 30-23 Patriots victory. "I didn't win my matchup and I'll take that on me.
"He's a good player. The first time was the first time. This time the stakes were a little bit higher and he won today. And that's fine. As a competitor, I'm going to watch it, continue to put the work in, and get ready for next time.''
In the overtime, the Patriots were victimized by Enunwa, who had been quiet most of the day.
After making a hard tackle on Chris Ivory on first down, safety Jordan Richards, who took the lion's share of the snaps with McCourty and Chung out, was shaken up and had to leave.
Fitzpatrick took advantage. He went after Richards's replacement, and Leonard Johnson and Tavon Wilson got caught tangled up with each other.
"They ran a simple deep slant and we got picked, ran into each other [and] gave up a long play,'' said Patriots coach Bill Belichick.
Three plays later, Decker beat Butler for the game-winner.
Butler, who held Decker in check for the most part — three catches for 47 yards — still was stinging from the catch — and the loss.
"Most definitely,'' said Butler when asked if he took that play particularly hard. "Any corner is going to take that personally. Not just me.''
Like his teammates, Butler refused to play the injury card.
“It’s no excuse,’’ he said. “Whoever’s out there’s out there. They just gotta make plays. It’s not about guys missing here or guys missing there. It’s about football.’’