FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — The Jets have found many ways to perform a Foxborough Flop through the years, but Sunday’s was an all-timer.
The Jets gave up an 84-yard punt return to rookie Marcus Jones in the final seconds of a tie game to suffer a crushing 10-3 defeat to the Patriots at Gillette Stadium.
The punt return sent the Jets to their 14th straight loss to New England, the longest current streak in the NFL. The Jets came to Massachusetts with a chance to grab first place in the division. Instead, they left in last.
The Jets are now 6-4, tied with the Patriots but New England owns the head-to-head tiebreaker after sweeping the Jets for the seventh consecutive year. These are not the Same Old Patriots, but they still found a way to beat the upstart Jets.
Who needs Tom Brady when you have … Marcus Jones?
Jones, the rookie from Houston, etched his name into the lore of the Jets-Patriots rivalry with his dash through the Jets’ punt team.
With 26 seconds left and the game tied 3-3, Braden Mann punted from the Jets’ 32. He hit a low, line drive on what was his 10th punt of the day. Mann outkicked his coverage, sending the ball 52 yards to the Patriots’ 18, and Jones did the rest. He made Tyler Conklin miss, then ran up the Jets’ sideline, before cutting inside past a diving Mann and then sprinted his way to the end zone to give the Patriots an improbable win and send the fans into a frenzy.
“It’s crazy,” cornerback Sauce Gardner said. “That’s something that happens on a video game or something.”
The Jets now must pick up the pieces before playing the Bears next week.
“It’s a crappy way to lose,” Jets coach Robert Saleh said. “You feel like you’re exchanging blows from a defensive standpoint from both teams and somebody could just make a play and get it to overtime. They made a play and we didn’t.”
The game came down to the special teams miscue, but the Jets’ offense takes the blame in this one. It looked inept all day. The Jets managed just 103 total yards, the fourth-lowest total in franchise history. They had six first downs, tied for the second-fewest in franchise history.
The Jets were particularly awful in the second half. They did not cross the 50-yard line once in the half and had two total yards.
“It was dog s–t,” Saleh said of his offense’s performance in the second half.
Nothing worked and it wasted a strong outing from the defense that sacked Mac Jones six times and held the Patriots to a field goal.
All of that was lost, though, with the way the offense performed. Starting with quarterback Zach Wilson, who completed 9 of 22 passing for 77 yards. The 77 yards are a career-low for Wilson in games he finished.
In the second half, he went 4 of 11 for 12 yards. Three weeks after his three-interception performance against Bill Belichick’s crew, Wilson did not turn it over, although he had one near interception late in the game.
Wilson was asked if he felt like he let the defense down.
“No, no,” Wilson said.
Wilson indicated the windy conditions bothered him. The winds were gusting up to 20 mph during the game. Wilson had a 34-yard pass to Denzel Mims and his second-longest pass was 13 yards. His longest pass in the second half was 8 yards.
“I think you got to take into account it’s windy as hell out there, too, guys,” Wilson said. “There’s times where you can’t just completely try and take these shots down the field.”
The two teams exchanged field goals in the second quarter and the score remained tied at 3-3 deep into the fourth quarter. Both defenses seemed to rise to the occasion every time their team needed a big stop on third down.
The Jets got the ball back with 1:52 remaining on their own 20 and a shot at driving to the game-winning score or at least running out the clock to force overtime. They picked up one first down, their second of the half on a defensive holding penalty, one play after Wilson nearly threw an interception. After two Michael Carter runs netted 9 yards, Wilson attempted a swing pass to Carter on third-and-1, but Kyle Dugger blew the play up and Carter lost 2 yards.
The Patriots took a timeout with 26 seconds left, setting up the punt from Mann and the return from Jones.
“I either need to get it up in the air or out of bounds in that situation,” Mann said. “I just need a better punt in that situation.”
It looked like Jets gunner Justin Hardee may have been blocked in the back near the end of the return, but there was no call.
Belichick’s mastery of the Jets continues. The Jets have not won here since the 2010 playoffs. This felt like their best shot in a while.
“It’s tough, especially when the defense did all we could do and only allowed a field goal,” Gardner said. “We were thinking there was going to be overtime. We were getting ready for it. The defense, we were ready to put everything on our shoulders. Unfortunately, we didn’t get there.”