EAST RUTHERFORD, NEW JERSEY // Life at the top is too heady for the New York Jets right now.
Plagued by errors on offence, defence and special teams, the Jets were routed by New England 37-16 last night. While the Patriots took command of the AFC East, the Jets not only fell one game behind in the standings, they fell so flat on the field that they were thoroughly outclassed.
"It hurts bad," Darrelle Revis, their star cornerback, said. "We knew what position we could have been in if we won. We wanted this very bad."
But they played so badly, especially in the second half, that they had little chance of slowing Tom Brady and the team that has dominated the division for a decade.
"We made too many mistakes and it cost us," Revis added. "You can't do that against an offence and against No 12 (Brady).
Brady threw three touchdown passes, including two to Rob Gronkowski, and the Patriots moved to 6-3. They also have swept the Jets (5-4), who are tied for second place with Buffalo Bills.
While New England pulled away in the second half, the game turned late in the second quarter. Mark Sanchez took a timeout at the wrong time — which Rex Ryan took, the coach, responsibility for it, but Sanchez admitted it was his gaffe. The Jets did not take advantage of kicking off from the 50-yard line after going ahead 9-6. And they could not get any pressure on Brady, who picked them apart on a quick 80-yard drive.
All part of a bad night for New York, who had won three in a row.
Ryan was so angry, he told NBC at half time that the timeout was the "stupidest play in NFL history."
"They [the coaches] were talking about taking a timeout and as soon as I heard it, I walked over to the ref. As soon as I did it, I saw Rex when I was walking off ... It was a horrible mistake and one you can't make," Sanchez said.
There also was a fluffed punt return by Joe McKnight that two other Jets also mishandled before the Patriots recovered, leading to a field goal. And two interceptions by linebacker Rob Ninkovich. And a team-record 4.5 sacks by Andre Carter.
"We had some big mistakes that you just can't overcome," said Plaxico Burress, who caught a TD pass from Sanchez. "We kept putting our defence in tough situations against a quarterback like that."
That quarterback and his coach set an NFL mark with their 117th victory, breaking a tie with Miami's Dan Marino and Don Shula as the winningest duo since 1966.
After the Jets got within a score at 23-16 early in the fourth quarter, Brady coolly led the Patriots down the field on an 84-yard drive that was capped by an eight-yard touchdown catch by Deion Branch.
Ninkovich then sealed the victory — which snapped a two-game skid — on the Jets' next possession with a 12-yard interception return for a touchdown midway through the final quarter.
It was also the first home loss for the Jets (5-4) after opening 4-0, but they cannot dwell on it because they play again at Denver on Thursday night.
Ryan insisted his team was greatly improved since a 30-21 loss at New England on October 9 and declared it a must-win if New York wanted to get some home play-off games. Turns out, the Jets still have plenty of work to do if they expect to dethrone the Patriots.
New England were coming off defeats to Pittsburgh and the New York Giants, but said there was no concern in their locker room. It certainly showed as the Patriots avoided their first three-game losing streak since 2002.
Brady finished 26 of 39 for 329 yards, the 40th time he reached the 300-yard mark in a regular-season game, breaking a tie with Hall of Famer Joe Montana for eighth on the NFL's list. He also joined New Orleans' Drew Brees as the only players to throw for 3,000 yards in their team's first nine games. Brees also accomplished the feat this season.
Gronkowski finished with eight catches for 113 yards and the two scores, and Stephen Gostkowski kicked three field goals. Carter had all those sacks as the Patriots' defence, ranked last in the league coming in, harassed Sanchez all night.
Sanchez was 20 of 39 for 306 yards and a touchdown, but was intercepted twice and sacked five times.
The Jets appeared to get back in it when Burress caught a seven-yard fade pass over Antwaun Molden in the right corner of the end zone on the first play of the fourth quarter, making it 23-16.
But Brady led the Patriots on a typically efficient drive, going 84 yards on 13 plays using a no-huddle offence that kept the Jets' defence off balance. Brady coolly spread the ball around to his receivers before connecting with Branch with 8:04 remaining.
"We got caught," Jim Leonhard, the Jets safety, said. "We do a lot of things where we're trying to match personnel, and every once in a while they get in that hurry-up and it catches us."
The score sent many in the crowd at MetLife Stadium heading for the exits.
Earlier, Gronkowski appeared to catch his second TD pass of the night, but video replay showed he stepped out of bounds. Gostkowski then kicked his third field goal, from 27 yards.
But Gronkowski got into the end zone again a few minutes later after Ninkovich returned a twice-tipped interception as Sanchez's throw went off the hands of running back Shonn Greene, then was deflected by linebacker Jerod Mayo.
The Jets got on the scoreboard when they got some rare pressure on Brady. Jamaal Westerman got to him in the end zone, and Brady threw the ball away left-handed. He was called for intentional grounding and a safety.
New York took the free kick and moved 65 yards on seven plays, including a 21-yard run by LaDainian Tomlinson and a 22-yard grab by Patrick Turner, his first catch of the season. Sanchez ran in from the two yard line on a quarterback draw for a 9-6 lead.
Adding to the frustration was New York not opting to try a short kick-off following a 15-yard penalty on New England's Vince Wilfork, and Nick Folk kicked the ball through the end zone. Brady hit five passes on an 80-yard drive, with Gronkowski getting open over the middle for the 18-yard score with nine seconds left in the half that made it 13-9.
Folk was wide left on a 24-yard field goal attempt at the end of New York's opening drive.
New England took advantage, taking a 3-0 lead on Gostkowski's 50-yard field goal that squeezed over the crossbar.
Elsewhere, the San Francisco 49ers moved to 8-1 atop the NFC West after they edged out the New York Giants 27-20 thanks to fourth-quarter touchdowns from Vernon Davis and Kendall Hunter.
The Niners led 12-6 shortly after half time, David Akers kicking four field goals to Lawrence Tynes' two, but Mario Manningham's tremendous touchdown catch on a 13-yard Eli Manning pass put New York ahead.
But the game turned around as Alex Smith hit tight end Davis and then Hunter powered into the corner.
Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford threw four interceptions, two of which were returned for touchdowns, as the Lions went down 37-13 to the Chicago Bears.
Only one of Chicago's four touchdowns came on offence — a six-yard run by Matt Forte — as Devin Hester's 82-yard punt return and pick-sixes by Major Wright and Charles Tillman on successive Lions drives set up victory.
To add to Detroit's misery, DJ Moore was ejected in the fourth quarter after a clash with Stafford which sparked a bench-clearing brawl.
The Seattle Seahawks inflicted a 22-17 defeat on the Baltimore Ravens on the back of five Steven Hauschka field goals and a Marshawn Lynch touchdown.
The Ravens actually topped the touchdown count 2-1, Ed Dickson catching passes from Joe Flacco and running back Ray Rice.
The New Orleans Saints kept control of the NFC South race as they beat closest rivals Atlanta 26-23 in overtime at the home of the Falcons.
John Kasay kicked a 26-yard field goal to punish Falcons coach Mike Smith for his decision to go for it on fourth down on his own 29-yard line, coming up short when Michael Turner was stuffed back from the Saints run blitz.
The Saints move to 7-3 while the Falcons, second in the division, drop to 5-4.The Pittsburgh Steelers needed two fourth-quarter interceptions of rookie quarterback Andy Dalton as they hung on for a 24-17 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals to climb back above them in the AFC North.
Pittsburgh, who got two touchdowns from Rashard Mendenhall, jumped out to a 14-0 lead but the Bengals, who entered the game on a five-game winning streak, came storming back before falling short at the finish.
The Houston Texans strengthened their grip on the AFC South as they moved to 7-3 with a 37-9 rout of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Matt Schaub threw two touchdown passes while Arian Foster, Ben Tate and Derrick Ward scored on the ground.
The Philadelphia Eagles' postseason challenge looks to be over as a late five-yard touchdown throw from John Skelton to Early Doucet saw the Arizona Cardinals claim a 21-17 win.
Michael Vick threw three interceptions as the Eagles struggled without the suspended DeSean Jackson and the injured Jeremy Maclin.
The Dallas Cowboys scored touchdowns on their first four drives as Tony Romo tore through the Buffalo Bills en route to a 44-7 victory that lifts them to 5-4.
Romo had three touchdown throws before he had a single incompletion, and finished 23 of 26.
Chris Johnson set a new season-high with 130 yards and a touchdown as the Tennessee Titans cruised to a 30-3 win over the Carolina Panthers to move to 5-4.
The Titans defence sacked rookie quarterback Cam Newton five times.
The Indianapolis Colts' misery continued as they went down 17-3 at home to Jacksonville Jaguars drop to 0-10 on the season.
Blaine Gabbert threw for a touchdown and Maurice Jones-Drew added another on the ground, while Indianapolis failed to get anything moving on offence.
The Miami Dolphins won their first home game in almost a year as Reggie Bush scored two touchdowns in a 20-9 victory over the Washington Redskins.
The Dolphins twice intercepted the Redskins' stand-in quarterback Rex Grossman to record a first win in Miami since November 14 last year.
The St Louis Rams escaped from Cleveland with a 13-12 win over the Browns, who saw Phil Dawson miss a late 22-yard field goal after a bungled snap.
Dawson had made four field goals despite strong winds, but could not bail his out team out a final time.
Tim Tebow only completed just two passes all game against the Kansas City Chiefs but the second was a 56-yard touchdown throw to Eric Decker that lifted the Denver Broncos to a 17-10 win.
Tebow ran for 44 yards and a touchdown while Lance Ball had 96 yards, covering for injuries to leading rushers Willis MacGahee and Knowshon Moreno.