For the second straight year, the Jets' season unraveled in sudden, dramatic and whiplash-inducing fashion. They've mastered the art of the quick crash and burn.
A year ago, it was one play and 15 seconds -- Victor Cruz's 99-yard touchdown in the next-to-last game. It ruined the Jets and launched the Giants on their Super Bowl march.
This time, it was three plays -- all touchdowns -- in 52 seconds, only the third time in modern NFL history that a team (the Patriots) scored three touchdowns in less than a minute.
You've heard of the minute waltz? This was the minute faults, with three colossal blunders: one on offense, one on defense and one on special teams. At least they went down as a team. Individually, they're the kind of plays that happen maybe once a year. That they happened in 52 seconds defied the laws of probability.
It collapse actually started with Shonn Greene getting stuffed (and fumbling) on fourth-and-1. From that play to Julian Edelman's 22-yard fumble return for a touchdown on a Jets kickoff, the Jets' win probability dropped 33 percent in 113 seconds, according to ESPN Stats & Information -- from 34.8 percent to 1.8 percent.
By scoring 21 points in 52 seconds, the Patriots eclipsed the Jets' point total in six games. By scoring 35 points in the second quarter, the Patriots surpassed the Jets' total in all but two games.
The Jets allowed 27 touchdowns in their first 41 quarters of the season. In the 42nd quarter, they surrendered five. That 42nd quarter always is a killer.
This was the anti-Miracle at the Meadowlands. That night in 2000, the Jets scored 30 points in the fourth quarter. And you thought that was amazing.
How did the 52-second collapse happen? A lot of it was the Jets' own doing -- a mental error by QB Mark Sanchez and a miscommunication on defense. On the last two touchdowns, the Patriots had a player in the right spot at the right time. That happens to good teams. The bad teams try to rationalize it by saying it was bad luck.
A closer look at the plays that doomed the Jets' season:
Greene's fourth-down fiasco: This didn't occur during the 52 seconds from hell, but we'll include it because it set the tone. On a fourth-and-1 from the Patriots' 31, the Jets decided to go for it. The percentages were in the Jets' favor, as they entered the game as the best short-yardage rushing team in the league -- an 88.9-percent conversion rate, according to ESPN Stats.
They loaded up with three TEs and two RBs, and they actually blocked it well, moving mammoth NT Vince Wilfork out of the hole. It came down to a one-on-one blocking situation -- FB Lex Hilliard vs. LB Jerod Mayo, who defeated the block and made a terrific tackle in the hole. For dramatic effect, Greene -- in a wet-bar-of-soap moment -- fumbled the ball forward 12 yards.
Tom Brady's 83-yard TD pass to Shane Vereen: The Jets failed to cover Vereen on a basic wheel route out of the backfield. They rushed four and appeared to be in a Cover-3 zone. LB Bart Scott got caught up inside, picked by WR Wes Welker, and couldn't get to the sideline in time. Rex Ryan seemed to exonerate Scott, calling it a communication breakdown, not the fault of one player.
Based on Antonio Cromartie's postgame explanation, it sounds like a communication error in the secondary caused the breakdown. He said they put Scott "in a bad position." The bottom line is, the Jets allowed a basic play, which should've gained 10 or 15 yards, go for 83 -- the longest play against them this season.
Steve Gregory's 32-yard fumble return: This is better known as the Butt Fumble. It never would've happened if Sanchez had remembered the play. It was a misdirection play, with Greene -- the tailback -- running wide left on a pitch action, with Hilliard -- the up-back -- taking a quick-hitting handoff and plowing into the line. But the play was aborted when Sanchez turned out to his left instead of the right.
What occurred next will be remembered for generations. Sanchez did the right thing; he tucked the ball and started to scramble. He actually had some daylight on the outside shoulder of RG Brandon Moore, but for some reason Sanchez ran up Moore's back. In slapstick fashion, his feet slipped out from under him and his face went directly into Moore's backside. Sanchez was hit with such force that he coughed up the ball.
NBC analyst Cris Collinsworth did a fantastic job on the telecast, but I thought he gave way too much credit to Wilfork. He said Wilfork overwhelmed Moore to blow up the play, but I thought Moore played him to a standoff. Even Patriots coach Bill Belichick admitted his team didn't do anything special on the play, calling it for what it was -- a mistake by Sanchez. It was two mistakes, really -- the blown handoff and the fumble.
Julian Edelman's 22-yard fumble return: On the ensuing kickoff, the Jets did what they've done a lot lately -- commit a huge mistake on special teams. On a 25-yard return, Joe McKnight coughed it up in dramatic fashion on a great hit by Devin McCourty. The Jets blocked it up well -- kind of. They left one player unblocked -- McCourty. McKnight was carrying the ball on his right hip, not protecting it, and that was all she wrote.
The TV cameras caught Ryan's reaction on the sideline, and it said it all: "Un-f------ believable!"
CAT AND MOUSE: The Jets decided to attack Brady with a smaller lineup, using five or more defensive backs on 56 plays out of 65 plays (not counting two kneel downs). They stayed with that personnel grouping even though the Patriots used three-plus WRs less than a quarter of the time.
It was like a rope-a-dope strategy, daring the Patriots to run the ball. They did, rushing for 152 yards. But Brady also picked apart the nickel and dime packages, who threw three TDs and averaged 11.5 yards per attempt against the extra-DB packages.
OLD ISSUES EMERGE: A year ago, the Jets struggled with their middle-of-the-field pass coverage. They addressed the problem by signing two new safeties, LaRon Landry and Yeremiah Bell. Brady was unfazed. He destroyed the Jets in the middle.
Brady was 11-for-14 for 282 and two touchdowns on throws between the painted numbers, per ESPN Stats. Get this: His 20.1 yards-per-attempt was the most the Jets have allowed in a single game in the last five seasons.