When Sunday's 29-26 overtime loss to the Patriots was over, Jets coach Rex Ryan praised the fight shown by his team.
That's a fair assessment, given the comeback on the road from 10 points down entering the fourth quarter to taking a lead on a Nick Folk field goal with a bit more than a minute left to play. It continues the theme of these Jets having more to them than many thought after they got ransacked by the 49ers and presents the loss in the best possible light.
Linebacker Calvin Pace's take on the proceedings was even more on the money, though.
"We missed a golden opportunity,” linebacker Calvin Pace said. “A bunch of shoulda, woulda, couldas. Just didn’t get it done."
That's the real epitaph of this game because there are no moral victories until a season is over. If the Jets should go on to do the improbable, win the division and make it to the Super Bowl then you can look back at this as a game that turned the page in much the same way that regular season losses have been lionized into great Giants moments on that team's way to their last two championships.
Right now, though, this is nothing but a painful loss that saw the Jets unable to walk through a door opened up to them by their mostly strong play and a haphazard performance by a Patriots team that might not be quite as good as everyone expected. You can spin the game any number of ways and come up with any reason you want for the result, but the simple fact is that the Jets picked up a lost and, as Pace said, missed a golden opportunity.
Here's the rest of the good, bad and ugly from Sunday's loss.
GOOD and UGLY: Mark Sanchez made way too many plays on Sunday to say that he played a bad game, but all of the good moments wind up serving to make the handful of ugly plays stand out all the more. His interception was a terrible underthrow, the Jets picked up a safety because he couldn't hand the ball off cleanly and there were a few other incompletions that made you wonder just what Sanchez was thinking.
Those balance, but don't outweigh, the 328 passing yards and assured strike to Dustin Keller for a key fourth quarter touchdown. Sanchez was comfortable and in rhythm, which makes some other Jets decisions easier to question.
BAD: Sanchez showed he could throw on the Patriots, but the Jets still kept things close to their vest at big moments in the game. That play calling made sense through the first three quarters, but you have to take a few shots at the brass ring when it's close enough to grab.
UGLY: That said, criticism of the Jets as playing scared is ludicrous since we're pretty sure they'd be filleted if that game-ending sack fumble came when the score was tied at 23 before Folk's go-ahead field goal. The Jets were a shade too conservative, but there's a long way to go from there to scared.
GOOD: The next man up theory persists because of players like Jeremy Kerley, who had another big afternoon in a season filling up with them for a player who has made it easier to live without Santonio Holmes. Keller was excellent as well and his healthy return has given the passing game some needed life.
UGLY: Of all the shouldas, none is bigger than the pass Stephen Hill shoulda caught just before Folk tied the game. Wide open for a first down, Hill just dropped a perfect pass from Sanchez and the result allowed the Patriots to conserve time and keep the Jets out of the end zone at a crucial moment. The rookie had some good plays, but he didn't make the one he absolutely had to make.
BAD: Special teams work used to be a reliable area for the Jets to gain an advantage, but that hasn't been the case this season and it was a problem again on Sunday even with Devin McCourt's fumble on a kickoff in the fourth. McCourty went 104 yards for a touchdown on a previous kick, one penalty put the Jets in bad field position and another gave the Pats a first down after they punted the ball away. Margins are too slim for such errors.
GOOD: We'll finish where we started and give the Jets some credit for both fighting and improving in the last three weeks. Defensive linemen Muhammad Wilkerson and Quinton Coples have made the defense better, the offense is running with a higher confidence level and it's clear the nails were stuck in the team's coffin a bit too early.