EAST RUTHERFORD -- There was just no excuse Sunday.
Plenty of reasons, perhaps, but no excuse for the Patriots coughing up a 21-10 halftime lead and gagging their way to a 30-27 overtime loss to the Jets at MetLife Stadium.
In years past, the Patriots and Tom Brady would get up by two scores on the Jets in a second meeting of the season and proceed to blow the Jets out of their own building. Sunday, it was presumed the same was about to happen. Rookie Geno Smith, after an impressive first drive of the game, couldn't get anything going. The Patriots were in the spread and moving the ball effectively.
Then all of sudden, the Patriots get outscored 17-0 in the third quarter and wonder what truck hit them. That certainly hasn't been in the script in years past.
Who and what was to blame?
Horrific third-down offense (1-for-12). Untimely -- and sometime inexcusable -- third-down defense allowing the Jets to convert 11-of-21 chances.
No Aqib Talib, Vince Wilfork or Jerod Mayo.
Dont'a Hightower in pass coverage. Alfonzo Dennard getting burned in pass coverage, giving up a key third-down conversion with just over five minutes left in the fourth.
No Danny Amendola.
Chris Jones forgetting a new obscure rule that prevents defensive teammates from shoving each other into the line of scrimmage.
But the Patriots were smart after this one. Don't blame a rookie nose tackle for this loss. The veterans made sure of that, led by the leader of leaders on the team -- Tom Brady.
Brady and the offense -- even with Rob Gronkowski back on the field -- just doesn't look right. That much is blatantly obvious to anyone who has been following this team all season. Just a touch off, but sometimes that's all it takes to throw a huge monkey wrench into things.
When you're a superior athlete, you live on the edge, the fine line between precision and mediocrity. Even against the Saints, before he engineered a miraculous game-winning drive at the end with a spectacular pass to Kenbrell Thompkins, Brady didn't quite look himself. He was throwing passes deep into double coverage, he fell victim to no fewer than four drops in the fourth quarter. He was just off in his touch passes to the flat and the sidelines.
On Sunday, Brady walked that fine line again, but this time he didn't finish with the magic touch. He failed to connect with Thompkins on the final drive of regulation and yelled at him in frustration.
After the game, Brady opened up about third down, about the team's inability to score in the third quarter and his inability to make a sound decision at a critical moment.
The Patriots were completely in command of this one. Usually, that's when the Patriots put away the Jets with a spanking. This time, Brady was the one getting spanked. On the first play of the second half, he was sacked. On the second, he spotted Gronkowski over the middle but didn't see Antonio Allen sitting like a hawk underneath. Allen undercut the route and returned the pass for a game changing pick-six.
"Gronk had to cross him out. He flashed open and I threw it. The guy [Allen] made a good play. That's a ball I shouldn't throw. You can't do that, throw interceptions for touchdowns. That's one way to get you beat."
So is going 1-for-12 on third down, like the Patriots did Sunday.
"We just haven't been good on third down all year," Brady said. "Obviously, that's a big problem. You can't stay on the field and help our defense out. We have to be better in all areas, but we certainly need to be better on third downs and in the red area. There [are] no excuses. We just didn't play well. I [have] to do a better job out there. That's what I need to do."
Brady has his Gronk back and he's happy about that, but deep down that won't cure everything.
"He played his butt off. All the guys played hard," Brady said of No. 87. "There was a lot of effort. We played hard. We played for as long as we could. We just didn't make enough plays. This defense is a good defense. They're well-coached. There are no easy plays out there. You have to earn them. We just didn't do enough to earn them."
Brady said after the game that the Patriots just can't finish their plays like they are accustomed.
"It was close and we're close a lot," Brady said. "We just have to start making them, all of us. The balls have to be better thrown. Everyone has to look at themselves and do a better job, because what we're doing right now isn't good enough. Providing a day like this [as example], we're one conversion on third down. We have to do a better job all the way around. Everybody on offense needs to look at what we can do better and certainly make it a point of emphasis. It [converting third downs] has to be a strength for us going forward. You're not going to win many football games going 1-for-12 [on third down]."
At 5-2, the Patriots are hardly in a panic. They have a one-game lead on the 4-3 Jets and host the 3-3 Dolphins next Sunday at Gillette. But the bigger picture is this: Until Tom Brady feels and looks more comfortable out on the field, the Patriots won't look quite right.