By the end of the game, Patriots fans had taken over the Meadowlands and no one was surprised. Most of the Jets fans sadly headed for the exits, having seen this ending before.
Of course the Jets had a chance to beat the Patriots, and of course it ended with the ball getting swatted out of Ryan Fitzpatrick's hands. And of course Tom Brady, given enough time -- or any time at all -- engineered a game-winning drive. That's the way it goes for teams who have franchise quarterbacks on their roster. That's the way it goes, far too often against the Jets.
"We just haven't had the breaks all year," receiver Quincy Enunwa said. "Calls haven't gone our way. We've made too many mistakes. When that kind of stuff happens we have the record that we have. We're talented. We just haven't been putting everything together on the field."
It's certainly debatable how talented the 3-8 Jets really are, though they put up a good fight in their 22-17 loss to the powerful Patriots on Sunday afternoon. At this point it's hard to tell if they are badly underachieving this season, or if they badly overachieved when they went 10-6 last year.
All they know for sure is that this season is different. And worse. Much worse.
"We all understand this is business," receiver Brandon Marshall said. "Last year people were crowning us kings and it felt good. Getting applauded at Knicks games and Rangers games, getting free steaks. And when you lose you're going to get the boo birds. People are going to be disappointed. They pay a lot of money to come watch us play. We know that this market, this team, these fans are really passionate and they want to win. It's been a long time since we've had a winner. You understand that because it's part of the business. It comes with it. When you're not doing your job and not winning games, it's going to be a rough year."
Yes it is, and yes it has been, and now they begin the slow, solemn march towards the unfulfilling end of their season. It doesn't matter much what they do on the field anymore, really. But I'll give you my five takeaways from the Jets-Patriots game, just the same:
1.) Where the heck was this all season?
Seriously, I don't think the Jets were as good as they looked last season, but they definitely aren't as bad as they've played this season. Their effort on Sunday proved the latter. They got an efficient performance from Fitzpatrick (22 of 32, 269 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions) a great performance from their top two receivers (Quincy Enunwa and Brandon Marshall combined for 11 catches, 176 yards and two touchdowns) and a solid, effective performance from a defensive line that pressured (but didn't sack) Tom Brady for much of the game and basically stopped the run (allowing 72 yards until LeGarrette Blount's final, 23-yard run). They made a few mistakes (Robby Anderson's fumble, jumping offsides on a Patriots 4th-and-1, the strip-sack of Fitzpatrick that basically ended the game) but for the most part they overcame them. It was a gutty performance against a really, really good team. If they had given half that effort against the Chiefs, Cardinals, Rams, and Dolphins, for example, there might have been a little meaning in the final five games.
2.) Quincy Enunwa is fantastic
I've been saying this pretty much since Week 2, but the 24-year-old Enunwa is showing he has all the abilities to be a starting receiver in the NFL. Maybe not an elite receiver, and maybe not even a No. 1 -- that's to be determined -- but the Jets could do a lot worse than him as a No. 2. He's shown great hands most of the season, decent speed, and an ability to get open. And on Sunday he put his acrobatic ability on display with his "Butt-touchdown" (a name that has to die, by the way). Enunwa had five catches for 109 yards -- his first 100-yard receiving game. He's on pace for 63 catches for 935 yards, which isn't a great season, but certainly a good-enough second season to give the Jets reason for hope. And that could be important as they head into an offseason where they might need some cap room to sign a quarterback. Eric Decker will be 30 years old next year and coming off hip and shoulder surgeries that will have him (hopefully) ready right before training camp starts, and the Jets could save nearly $6 million by cutting him. Brandon Marshall will be 33 next year and the Jets could save $7.5 million by cutting him. They could seriously think about cutting one of them if they believe Enunwa is ready to step in, and if they think another young receiver (like Robby Anderson) is ready to step up, too.
3.) Darrelle Revis is nearing the end
I know, you probably know that. But it's starting to sound like he knows it, too. Teams are picking on him now, the way that Tom Brady did on Sunday, burning him for two touchdown passes. It's actually getting a little sad to watch how this once-great player has declined before our eyes. A few weeks ago I advocated the Jets moving him to safety, and I still think that might be a good move. But benching him at this point would work, too. Much like with Fitzpatrick at quarterback, there's no reason to keep running the 31-year-old Revis out there when he clearly has no future with the Jets. He's got a cap number of $15.3 million next year if he's on the Jets roster, and $6 million if he's not, and much less than that (for the Jets) if he signs with another team. It's a no-brainer move this February, so why keep pretending like he's having a positive impact on the team now? Let Darryl Roberts and rookie Juston Burris get some more work.
4.) Ditto for the quarterback. It's Bryce Petty time … in case I haven't said it enough
I understand that head coach Todd Bowles doesn't think Petty is ready -- at least from what I'm told by team sources -- and that he thought putting him in against the Patriots would be a recipe for disaster. I didn't agree and thought he should've started Petty anyway, but fine. Whatever. Now, with a long week and a home game coming up against the 5-6 Colts, who boast the 30th-ranked defense (and passing defense) in the NFL, there is absolutely no reason not to give Petty a look. I mean, if he isn't ready for this game, then what game is he going to be ready to play? Honestly, if Bowles sticks with Fitzpatrick the only logical conclusion would be that he thinks Petty stinks and has no future with the Jets. And in that case, he should jump right to rookie Christian Hackenberg, ready or not. But whatever he does, please, no more Ryan Fitzpatrick. It was a nice run. But it's over. There's no point in dragging it on now.
5.) More Bilal Powell, please
Again, I'm a broken record here. The Jets did a good job of sticking with their running game even when it wasn't working well. They gained just 64 yards on 23 carries, but that was pretty good balance for a team that also had 33 pass plays. My issue is with the split of the running backs -- which actually was a little better than normal. Matt Forte ran the ball 13 times for 27 yards -- or 2.1 yards per carry. Powell, meanwhile, ran eight times for 36 yards -- or 4.5 yards per carry. When he gets the ball he seems to provide a burst and a spark. Granted, it's a small sample size, but in the last five games he's averaged 6.75 yards per carry (28 carries, 189 yards) to Forte's 3.99 (100 carries, 399 yards). Forte has been terrific, don't get me wrong, but Powell deserves just a little bit more action in the run game. It would make the Jets better and -- for whatever it's worth now -- help prevent Forte from wearing down.