EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The Jets sometimes seem like they've cornered the market on finding interesting new ways to lose. Five years ago, it was the infamous "Butt fumble." This time, it was a fumble that maybe, probably, never was.
But the differences between those two plays are as stark as the differences between those two teams. The "Butt fumble" was an embarrassment on Thanksgiving 2012 that turned Mark Sanchez and the Jets into a national joke. The fumble by Austin Seferian-Jenkins on Sunday -- the "What fumble," as some have named it -- wasn't funny to anyone.
And the Jets are determined not to let it define them either. If anyone laughs at them now, they do so at their own risk.
"This ain't over," Jets linebacker Darron Lee said after New York's phantom fumble-aided 24-17 loss to the New England Patriots. "We're fine. No one here is down. This isn't the end of the world. It doesn't knock us off tracks or anything. We're going to keep chugging and keep pushing."
"It just hurt that we didn't get that win that we fought so hard to get," cornerback Morris Claiborne added. "We had so many expectations of coming in and shocking the world today."
They nearly did, but the truth is the Jets may have done that already. Six games into what was supposed to be a disastrous season, they are 3-3 and just stood toe-to-toe with the defending Super Bowl champs. In fact, they jumped to a 14-0 lead and gave the immortal Tom Brady (20-for-38, 257 yards, two touchdowns, one interception) all he could handle, as Josh McCown (31-of-47, 354 yards, two touchdowns, two interceptions) picked the Patriots defense apart.
Even better, after things started to go wrong, the Jets held together. A dropped interception by Buster Skrine and a late McCown interception led to two Patriots touchdowns that erased the Jets' early lead and sent the game into halftime tied. And even after the Seferian-Jenkins touchdown was overturned and the Jets trailed by 10 with 8:24 remaining, they fought back, scored another touchdown and got the ball back with 1:53 left.
They fought until the end. They were in the game until the end.
And afterward, they wondered why anyone would be surprised.
"You guys don't know nothing about this team," said wide receiver Jermaine Kearse, who had four catches for 79 yards. "Nobody knows what we're about, how we play. This team, we just got put together and this team is coming together, we're all playing for one another and we go out and fight and compete every day. I feel like we can go against any team in this league."
Such confidence, such resiliency were not exactly trademarks of those Butt-fumble Jets. It certainly wasn't a trademark of the miserable, bloated, veteran-heavy Jets from a year ago. But somehow, Todd Bowles has made something of this mess of a roster he was handed -- which suddenly doesn't look like much of a mess at all.
"I think that people see that we're a legit team," Seferian-Jenkins said. "Like we always thought we were."
Yes they did, but nobody believed them back in the summer when they were a mostly unknown team filled with unclear potential. It was even hard to believe them when they were 3-2 after narrow victories over the flawed Jaguars and the awful Browns.
After the way they played the Patriots, though, and the attitude they carried through the "What fumble" and to the bitter end, it's hard not to take the Jets seriously anymore. No, they are probably not a top tier team. And yes, as their schedule gets even tougher there's still a good chance that they end up with a losing record. They have too many holes and make too many mistakes to truly believe they are a playoff team.
But they are not the laughing stock of the league that they were expected to be by many.
"We feel like we can beat anybody," rookie safety Jamal Adams said.
And nobody laughed when he said it. Not anymore.