FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The New York Jets squeezed tears out of their coach, but they couldn't squeeze production out of their rookie quarterback.
A quick scan of the box score will suggest the reason the New England Patriots won Sunday was Wes Welker's sublime performance. Maybe your eye will pick up Tom Brady's numbers, or the gargantuan discrepancy in first downs, total yards or time of possession.
But the problem that doomed the Jets, what eliminated any chance they had of winning in Gillette Stadium, sweeping the season series and keeping their playoff hopes from flatlining was Mark Sanchez.
What a donkey performance Sanchez turned in. He threw four interceptions. He committed three turnovers -- two picks and a fumble -- in the fourth quarter alone.
The Patriots converted Sanchez's giveaways into two touchdowns and a field goal. They won 31-14.
Patriots cornerback Leigh Bodden intercepted Sanchez three times, returning the first one 53 yards for a touchdown about nine minutes into the game. The play cast a pall over the rest of the game, and aside from a brief stretch in the third quarter where Sanchez appeared to collect himself, the Jets had no legitimate shot.
"They scored 17 points off of four turnovers by the quarterback, and that's how we lose," Sanchez said.
The Jets are 4-6, three games behind the Patriots and one game better than the last-place Buffalo Bills in the AFC East.
The tone surrounding the Jets' season has gone from inspiring to depressing, and their quarterback's performances have been corollary. He played like a veteran in the first few games yet has seemingly regressed.
After the game, Sanchez could be heard softly singing a song to himself as he buttoned up his dress shirt at his locker stall.
And maybe Jets coach Rex Ryan was whistling in the graveyard when he insisted he won't consider inserting veteran backup Kellen Clemens to give the rookie a break from what has turned into an unremitting series of disheartening displays.
"I don't think he's going to get any better sitting on the sideline," Ryan said of this year's fifth-overall draft pick. "Without question, he made a lot of mistakes today. There were some other guys that made a lot of mistakes as well. But he's got to learn from them.
"You can visualize all you want, watch tape and all that kind of stuff, carry a clipboard. But unless you get on the field, you're not going to get any better."
Sanchez has committed at least four turnovers three times this year.
He threw three interceptions (one for a touchdown) and lost a fumble (for a touchdown) in a 14-point loss to the New Orleans Saints in Week 4. He threw five interceptions in a sudden-death loss to the Buffalo Bills in Week 6.
Over the seven-game stretch in which the Jets have won one measly game and crumbled from Super Bowl contenders to AFC flotsam, Sanchez has thrown 14 interceptions and lost two fumbles.
That's more giveaways than a feel-good Oprah show. Of course, she leaves her audience giddy. Sanchez makes Jets fans queasy.
"I just tell him to pick his head up and keep playing football," Jets fullback Tony Richardson said, "because, obviously, he is very talented and can help this football team win.
"We are going to follow him 100 percent because he is the leader of this football team. When we watch the film, all of us could have done something to help win this ballgame. It's not just him."
Sanchez didn't have many answers Sunday. He said the first two interceptions were proper reads, but bad throws. He said the last two were the result of trying to do too much on plays that didn't work.
"Sometimes you just need to say 'Uncle' and end the play and be smart with the football," Sanchez said.
But he claimed he was prepared, said he was coming off his best practice week all year and threw only one incomplete pass Friday.
"I was feeling good about the gameplan," Sanchez said. "I knew it frontwards and backwards. But when you miss, a great defense like this will make you pay, and when you get down and try to create too much then they'll make you pay again.
"I've just got to progress and play smarter and not put the ball at risk."
Progress has been undetectable to anyone outside the organization.
"Would I say he's regressed? It's easy to say that when you compare to Week 2, but I think he's getting better," Ryan said.
Sanchez managed the Jets to a victory the first time they played the Patriots. He completed 14 of 22 attempts for 163 yards and one touchdown with zero interceptions at the Meadowlands in Week 2. He posted a 101.1 passer rating.
On Sunday, he was 8 of 21 for 136 yards and one touchdown -- a gorgeous, arcing 29-yard throw to Jerricho Cotchery. But those four interceptions left Sanchez with a 37.1 passer rating. His first half stat line was atrocious: 2 of 9 for 15 yards and two interceptions for a 0.0 rating.
"I'm learning a lot," Sanchez said. "It's hard to say by the stats that 'This kid's really improving,' but ... I've just got to take it one game at a time and then at the end of the season just look back at my performances and how I'm going to improve for next year."
Ryan admitted after the game he, offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer and quarterbacks coach Matt Cavanaugh might have to reassess their approach with Sanchez.
"Obviously, we've got to look at what we're asking him to do," Ryan said. "We've got to look in the mirror and see what we can do to help this guy.
"He's got all the tools. I think everybody sees that. We've just got to be patient with him. I think he's going to be an outstanding quarterback. I don't believe he's regressed to point where I would even consider ever benching him. He's our quarterback for the future, and he's our quarterback now."