FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The New York Jets were in the wrong ballpark, and yet they had Tom Brady right where they wanted him. They had him doing his best Gisele Bundchen impression on the home sideline, where he was cursing and screaming at the faceless men hired to catch the ball.
This was it, baby. The night the Jets were going to finally laugh last, the night Rex Ryan would deliver another of his one-fingered salutes (figuratively, anyway) at his critics (this one included), who have him pegged as a glorified defensive coordinator, nothing more.
It was raining hard in the second half, Brady was angry at the world and the Jets had mucked up the game enough to make cautious believers of their beaten-down fan base. A team expected to endure a dreadful season was on the verge of an honest-to-God 2-0 start with the Buffalo Bills on deck, and then the Tennessee Titans, all of it feeling way too good to be true.
But the best part was the apparent unraveling of Brady, a guy who once took his supermodel wife to a Broadway play rather than scout his next playoff opponent, the Jets, as they were beating the Indianapolis Colts on TV. If Gisele once famously ranted about Wes Welker's butterfingers after the Patriots lost a second Super Bowl to the New York Giants, she would've deemed Thursday night's receivers unworthy of her rage.
Brady didn't have Rob Gronkowski or Danny Amendola or Shane Vereen on Thursday night, and, man, did it ever show. "I think I have to do a better job with my body language," Brady said after a series of lousy routes and flat-out drops left him wanting to wring Bill Belichick's neck for letting Welker play with Peyton Manning.
All Tom (Not So) Terrific had on his side was Julian Edelman, whom Ryan described as "kind of a Welker clone-ish," only not as good. So this was the Jets' big chance, their shot to make something out of nothing, to actually put themselves in position to build one of the most improbable seasons the market has seen in a very long time.
And instead? "When we watch the film," David Harris said, "we are going to be sick to our stomachs because we gave them one."
Yes, the Jets gave the Patriots a 13-10 victory with a blown defensive assignment on the game's first possession and with a brand of nonprofessional football played by receivers who put Brady's to shame.
"Damn," Ryan said under his breath when he approached a postgame microphone.
Damn right. The severely diminished Patriots were who the Jets thought they were, and the Jets … roll the Dennis Green tape … let 'em off the hook. Mentally drained by the performance of his receivers, Geno Smith threw three interceptions in the fourth quarter, responding the way rookie quarterbacks always have in the House of Belichick, in which newbies are now 0-5.
Smith blamed himself for the loss, but he was only covering for Clyde Gates and Stephen Hill, not to mention Ryan Spadola, the Lehigh walk-on who dropped a pass that cost him a full ride. Of the staggering failure to catch the ball, Ryan said, "I think it mentally affected all of us."
Especially Smith. When the rookie was done throwing his last pick, Nick Mangold got hit with a personal foul and all hell broke loose on the sideline. Belichick started screaming at Mangold ("I figured he'd have a little bit more poise," the Jets center said), D'Brickashaw Ferguson took a swing at a Patriot, Willie Colon made illegal contact with an official, and both were ejected.
At the final gun, a soaked Belichick turned toward the crowd, raised his arm in the air and twice pumped his fist. He looked like he'd just made up for that playoff loss to the Jets after Brady hit Broadway a few years back.
He looked like he did last Thanksgiving night after the Jets built a strong case for the dismissal of their coach.
"All that matters is wins and losses," a deflated Ryan said Thursday night. "And, shoot, I'm paid to win. And, obviously, it didn't go our way."
The Jets deferred after winning the toss, and right away the defense made a deadly mistake, allowing Dobson, of all people, to break into the clear for a 39-yard touchdown catch.
"To give a freebie like that to Brady," Ryan said, "we talked about that all week long. You can't afford mental mistakes against Brady."
The Jets spotted Brady a 10-0 lead, and still the Patriots quarterback was losing it near his bench, fuming over opportunities missed. Edelman would catch 13 passes, but Brady's used to having three Edelmans at his disposal, not one.
The Patriots had barely survived the Bills, they were all sorts of banged up and they had only a few days to get Brady lined up with the imposters splitting out wide. It was a perfect setup for the underdog Jets, a great chance to foul up the best-laid plans of Belichick, who is 4-for-4 in division titles on Ryan's watch.
"Man," Ryan said, "it's just unfortunate. We thought we had a heck of a game plan going in."
That game plan held Brady to 185 yards passing and a mere 19 completions in 39 attempts. Despite the blown coverage, the defense was strong enough to win this game, to inspire Jets fans to dream the impossible dream -- a 2-0 start that could turn into a 4-0 or 3-1 start before the "Monday Night Football" game in Atlanta on Oct. 7.
But the receivers poured ice water all over the fantasy. "We left a lot out there," said Gates, the worst offender, "but that's football."
Yeah, that's football. Losing football. The kind the Jets didn't have to settle for on a wasted night in the rain.