FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – The bravado was gone, the bluster blown away. Rex Ryan looked bewildered, which three-game losing streaks tend to do to you.
He'd brought his New York Jets here to face a New England Patriots team with one of the worst pass defenses in the NFL and went with a balanced game plan (25 runs, 26 passes), a concept doomed to ground and pound its way to a 30-21 defeat.
Last January, Ryan was dancing in the end zone here following Shonn Greene's(notes) divisional-round clinching touchdown. This time it was Patriots defensive end Mark Anderson(notes) shaking it after a game-ending sack of Mark Sanchez(notes).
Ryan was left to wonder what had happened to his Super-Bowl-or-Bust team, now a measly 2-3.
"We're searching" Ryan said.
With his voice dulled and his head slumped, he eventually departed the podium to find a waiting Sanchez, who could offer only a helpless pat on the shoulder.
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"I hate seeing Rex like that," Sanchez said, "talking about how this is one of the toughest stretches. And it is, but, God, it's just frustrating."
The Jets spent part of the postgame denying a newspaper report saying three receivers had gone to Ryan and complained about the play-calling. Fine, maybe they didn't. But maybe they should have.
The Patriots' secondary has been a sieve (ranked last in the league in a number of categories), but here were the Jets running and running and running – 25 times for 97 yards.
"I really did like the game plan," Sanchez said, and it seemed like he meant it. "I think we wanted to establish the run today. I think we did that in spurts. I think our run game was pretty effective."
Meanwhile the Jets defense couldn't stop the run – BenJarvus Green-Ellis rolled up 136 yards and two touchdowns by himself. The defense also had foolish penalties, gave up big plays and struggled to get New England off the field.
"We've got to play smarter," Ryan said. "If you make mistakes against that football team they'll burn you, they'll absolutely kill you … We've got a long way to go. Nobody said it would be easy."
True enough, but Ryan is the first to say it would happen. This was the third consecutive year he's predicted a Super Bowl title. And this preseason a lot of talk was about churning out the victories to win the AFC East and avoid the grind of needing three road victories to win the conference.
"Forget about the postseason right now," Sanchez said. "It's not like we're out of this thing, we just need to win, just win. Get back to our winning ways. Forget where we are going to be seeded. It doesn't matter. Just win.
"Just need a win."
He kept repeating it. What else can he say? The Jets aren't just 2-3 – both New England and Buffalo are 4-1.
"We just lost to New England," Mason continued. "Now we have to move on to Miami. … I don't even know when we play the Bills."
If the 0-4 Dolphins at home on a Monday night can't cure what ails New York, then this team is finished.
This was always going to be a challenging stretch. You could see it when the schedule was set – at Oakland, at Baltimore, at New England. It would take a heck of a team to run that gauntlet.
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The Jets always considered themselves a heck of a team, though. There's no way Ryan didn't consider the possibility of pulling it off. And he never figured he'd drop them all. There isn't an easy way to shake the feeling of a three-game losing streak, the last to their bitter rival.
The Jets need to find their confidence, their swagger, their attitude. This is a front-running team in the best sense of the term; when things start going right, they keep getting better.
Sunday they looked like a reactive club, too predictable in its play-calling, too worried about proving it could do something rather than doing whatever it takes to win the game. The Jets are at their best when they're breaking all the rules. New England was able to set up their defense perfectly, forcing a remarkable seven three-and-outs in the first three quarters.
They couldn't run the ball well enough, yet they don't trust Sanchez to chuck it all over the place. They were brutal on third down. Their defense has obvious issues that good teams can exploit.
Perhaps worst of all, this looked like a team afraid of losing, which is everything they are not.
"We're used to winning," Sanchez said.
"Three losses in a row hurts, no question," Ryan said.
The coach looked frustrated. He sounded down. This wasn't the normal Big Rex. These weren't his Jets.
New England has a way of humbling a team, especially here (19 consecutive regular-season wins). In past defeats, though, even by far bigger margins, New York sounded different.
Ryan showed up here last season and after a week of trash talk lost 45-3. "I came in to kick [Bill Belichick's] butt and he kicked mine," he said that night, taking his whipping with a bit of we'll-be-back attitude.
That attitude wasn't there Sunday.
The Super Bowl seems a long way off.
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