EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - The Jets tried to see the positives through the misery of another game they let slip right out of their hands. They tried to focus on how close they're coming, how that proves they can be a dangerous team, if only they can put everything together before time runs out.
But they know where they are in the schedule. They know they begin the second half of their season against the Buffalo Bills on Thursday night.
"This is a must win - period, point blank," said Jets cornerback Morris Claiborne, "if we want to turn this around."
Actually, it's probably too late for that. This trifecta of painful losses - to the Patriots, the Dolphins, and then 25-20 to the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday - was most likely the 2017 Jets last stand.
The Jets are going to face some big decisions in the coming weeks about what they want to do with the rest of their season, whether they want to pretend they're still in contention or take a look at what second-year quarterback Christian Hackenberg can do. Realistically, they know it's time to look at the future of their franchise, no matter how close they think they are right now.
And when they do turn the page, they will lament games like this: A game where they couldn't convert two early Falcons turnovers, a game where they literally fumbled away their last chance to win. This is what the Jets have done each of the last three weeks: Big mistakes when they had a chance to take control of the game and win.
Yes, this is a losers' lament, but they really could have been 6-2. Instead they are 3-5 wondering what might have been.
Here's a look at what happened - and what might have been - in the latest, heartbreaking defeat:
- The Jets whole season seems to be an endless series of wasted opportunities. Their biggest ones in this game came early, when the Falcons fumbled two first quarter snaps, setting up the Jets first at the Atlanta 39 and then at the Atlanta 20. But the Jets responded to both by being unable to move the ball - six yards on one drive and minus-5 on the other. Their total? Three lousy points (thanks in part to a missed field goal by Chandler Catanzaro). It's a common theme, but they're just not good enough to waste those opportunities.
- Speaking of wasted opportunities, but my goodness, Jeremy Kerley's fumbled punt at the 15 with 6:42 left was a crusher - worse than the infamous Kalif Raymond muffed punt at the end of the first half in Oakland earlier this week. If he fields that cleanly the Jets have 6:42 and all they have to do is get into field goal range to go ahead. Instead, they gift-wrap a field goal for the Falcons and now they need a touchdown. Sure, they had two more drives to get it and they went nowhere, but who knows what one more chance would've done for them?
- Jets cornerback Morris Claiborne wanted to use his matchup with Falcons receiver Julio Jones to prove he's one of the top corners in the NFL, and he certainly didn't waste his opportunity. He shadowed Jones for most of the game and his coverage was terrific. Jones finished with three catches for 74 yards, but he only had two catches for 21 yards when Claiborne went out with a foot injury (and by the way, Claiborne said neither of those were on him). It's not a coincidence that the Falcons immediately went to work on his replacement, Daryl Roberts, who quickly gave up a 54-yard catch to Jones. Claiborne has been terrific this season, but the knock on him has always been that he can't stay healthy. He said X-Rays on his foot were negative, but he'll sweat out an MRI on Monday. It could be a tough turnaround in a short week.
- With CB Buster Skrine out with a concussion, Todd Bowles warned that he'd have to try some "gymnastics" to cover all the Falcons' weapons, especially since he really didn't have a slot cornerback. And he sure did. The Jets ran a lot of different coverages, including some with six and seven defensive backs, and four safeties. The result, not surprisingly, was a lot of confusion, especially early in the game. They did a lot of pre-snap gesturing as they tried to get set, and the Falcons' targets often found big holes in the middle of the Jets' secondary. That's where Hooper (four catches, 47 yards, one touchdown) and receiver Mohamad Sanu (6-74-1) did most of their damage.
- Matt Forte was pretty upset after the game because the Jets didn't run the ball enough. Really, though, he's upset because he only had four carries (for seven yards). Otherwise, the Jets found a nice balance for their offense. On an absolutely miserable day with lots of rain and wind, the Jets did what they were supposed to do: They committed to the run. In the first half they ran 12 times and passed 16. The problem was the run wasn't very effective. They had just 23 total yards, including 19 on seven carries by Bilal Powell. Still, they tried like crazy to run in the second half, but the results were no better. Yes, in the end they had 36 passes and 22 rushes. But that includes nine straight passes on the final two drives (and in the final 5:14) when the Jets were basically in their two-minute offense. Before that it was 27 passes and 22 runs. Should that have tilted more towards the run? Maybe, but the Jets averaged two yards per carry. Meanwhile, Josh McCown was 26 of 33 for 257 yards. Really, it's no wonder they went more with the pass.
- McCown was really pretty good, considering how wet and windy the day was. And he was surprisingly good on a couple of deep passes to Robby Anderson, who had his finest day with six catches for 104 yards. The deep pass has been a spotty part of the Jets' offense, and in stormy conditions this didn't feel like the day where they'd open it up. But they did. And Anderson was fantastic. He even made one spectacular, diving catch on a 32-yard pass down the sidelines that was perfectly placed. He barely held onto the ball, which couldn't have been easy on a day where everyone seemed to have trouble holding onto the ball.