- Rich Cimini, ESPN New York Jets reporter
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Look at the last 2 1/2 games, including the OT period against the Patriots: The Jets have outscored their opponent in seven of the last 11 quarters, and they haven't been outscored by more than seven points in any one quarter. And they faced two quality opponents, the Texans and Patriots.
Just trying to spread some positive vibes here, folks. Now, after breaking down the tape, let's take one last look back at the 29-26 loss to the Patriots:
MISTER SOFTIE: On Tom Brady's last 13 dropbacks (the final drive in regulation and the first in OT), the Jets used a three-man rush five times -- and Brady completed all five passes for 63 yards. Against a four-man rush, he was 4-for-8 for 32 yards.
The three-man rush was an unusually passive approach for Rex Ryan and Mike Pettine. On Monday, Ryan explained that Brady had completed 100 percent of his throws against Cover-1 (single-high safety). Presumably, that's why they went with more two-safety looks on the two most important possessions.
Fine, but there was still some too-soft underneath coverage. On the final play before the game-tying FG, a second-and-10 from their 32, the Jets' LBs dropped eight yards from the line of scrimmage, surrendering a 7-yard pass to Danny Woodhead. That cut down the FG distance to 43 yards. Ryan said it wasn't a prevent defense, but it sure had some of the elements of a prevent.
In OT, the Jets got more aggressive, actually blitzing twice, but Brady did a terrific job of finding the right matchup. He picked on rookie LB Demario Davis, who was beat three times on the drive. You have to credit Brady for doing his thing, exploiting the wide-eyed rookie, but the Jets could've done a better job of pressuring.
GOOD MARK, BAD MARK: It probably was the best all-around performance of the season for Sanchez. The coaches put a lot on his plate, but he completed 68 percent of his passes -- a career-best in a game with 40+ attempts. But he still made some maddening decisions.
On his second-quarter interception, Sanchez threw late into a soft Cover-2 zone. RB Shonn Greene and TE Konrad Reuland were wide opener underneath, but he forced a 34-yard pass to WR Stephen Hill. Bad decision, worse throw. On a fourth-quarter sack, he missed a chance for a big play, failing to see a wide-open Lex Hilliard in the flat and an open Reuland abot 15 yards downfield. Both players were waving their arms, trying to get Sanchez's attention, but he ate the ball and took the sack.
Then came the OT fumble. Sanchez was under heavy pressure, as RG Brandon Moore got beat to the inside by DE Jermaine Cunningham and RT Austin Howard was whipped to the outside by DE Rob Ninkovich. That said, Sanchez did a poor job of protecting the football on the play. Once he knows he's going down, he has only one job -- hold on to the ball. It was the third OT turnover of his career, two more than any other player since 2009, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
PK Nick Folk bailed out Sanchez from having to face the heat on another questionable decision -- taking the sack on the ill-fated, third-down bootleg. Obviously, Sanchez did it to keep the clock running, forcing the Patriots to burn a timeout. It's a debatable call: Would you rather save the 10 yards or force them to use a timeout?
RULE OF THUMB: Sanchez jammed his left (non-throwing) thumb in the game. He didn't provide any details, but it apparently occurred on the aforementioned bootleg/sack. He used his left hand to break his fall. A few minutes later, he came out for OT with a wrap on the thumb.
KICKING THEMSELVES: That was some pretty bad coverage on Devin McCourty's 104-yard kickoff return. Here's what happened: The Patriots were set up for the return to the right, but it was kicked to their left. The Patriots' blocking flowed to the right and the Jets over-pursued. McCourty cutback to his left, finding a seam. He sprinted between Davis and Garrett McIntyre, a gaping hole.
O-LINE ISSUES: The offensive line made mistakes on a few key plays, none bigger than the game-ending sack. But there were others. On the safety, LG Matt Slauson got pushed back by massive DT Vince Wilfork, who got into the backfield and forced Sanchez to re-direct his handoff to Greene. There was a botched exchange and ... well, you know the rest. It was the Patriots' first safety in 102 games, the second-longest drought in the league, per CBS.
Wilfork made another key play in OT, beating Moore and stuffing RB Joe McKnight for no gain, setting up the game-ending sack. Slauson also got beat on the play by DT Kyle Love. Two plays earlier, Slauson was pulling and didn't block Ninkovich, who tackled McKnight for a loss of two.
There were some good moments for the line. The best came on Greene's 1-yard TD run. Backup OT Jason Smith lined up as a fullback and blasted LB Brandon Spikes in the hole. LT D'Brickashaw Ferguson blocked down on DE Chandler Jones and TE Jeff Cumberland sealed off LB Dont'a Hightower, opening a hole. Good stuff.
ODDS AND ENDS: Nice game for Hilliard. Not only did he force a fumble on kickoff coverage, but he made a key block on Sanchez's 7-yard TD pass to TE Dustin Keller ... The defense missed an opportunity to possibly sack Brady on his 17-yard TD pass to TE Rob Gronkowski. Rookie S Antonio Allen came free on a blitz, but he bumped into pass rusher Aaron Maybin, affording Brady an extra split-second to complete the ball ... The Jets went with their nickel package on at least 69 of 78 snaps, which explains why LB Bart Scott was on the field for only nine plays. Even so, he's probably not a happy camper.
The furor over the play calling and the Jets' deployment of QBs Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow has overshadowed something important: The team has improved since the 49ers debacle.