Jets are no joke -- just ask the Patriots

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- You love 'em. You hate 'em. You love 'em.

They're your 2013 New York Jets, maddeningly inconsistent but lovably relentless. Week to week, this team is harder to predict than Miley Cyrus. Sometimes, they behave as immaturely as the so-called star, but they've overcome their growing pains and obvious deficiencies to bring you this:

A meaningful season.

The Jets saved the New York football season Sunday at MetLife Stadium, where they overcame an 11-point deficit, turned Tom Brady into a pedestrian quarterback (yes, again) and de-Gronked the New England Patriots in overtime 30-27.

Sure, they benefited from Lavonte David 2.0 -- a wacky, last-second penalty to set up a Nick Folk game winner -- but the fortuitous finish doesn't diminish what happened over the first 70 minutes. The Jets beat Bill Belichick's Evil Empire, beat it for the first time in six tries, and it sends a message to the rest of the league:

You have to take the Jets seriously.

The Jets aren't an upper-tier team, but they're also not a clown car, as many expected them to be. Rex Ryan isn't Dead Coach Walking anymore; he's Good Coach Heading Toward a Contract Extension. In seven weeks, the Jets (4-3) have changed the perception, giving New York something to embrace for the next couple of months.

"It gets us close to the playoffs, that's what we're trying to do," said rookie defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson, whose midweek comment about Brady -- he's not Superman -- proved to be prophetic. "We're trying to win the East. That's the mission."

The Jets moved to within a game of the Patriots (5-2), having split the season series. Imagine that: They're one game behind "the almighty Patriots," as newcomer Josh Cribbs called them, with nine to play. Some folks predicted a four-win season for the Jets. The way their defense is playing, it would be a disappointment if they don't double that.

To stun the Patriots, who have won so many games over the years on weird penalties and rulings (dare we mention the Tuck Rule?), put a big smile on Ryan's face.

"That's the team you chase, that's the team we've always chased," said Ryan, who improved to 4-7 against the Belichicks. "You're tired of looking up at them, but at the end of the day, hey, they've earned that."

Brady isn't what he used to be, but he's still Brady. That doesn't seem to faze Ryan's young, cocksure defense, which held the future Hall of Famer to a sub-50 percent passing day for the second time this season.

What the Jets did to Brady over the final 45 minutes, from the second quarter through overtime, should be put on a DVD and stashed in a "How to Beat Brady" archive. On the last 10 possessions of the game, the Jets held Brady & Co. to seven punts, two field goals and one game-changing interception by safety Antonio Allen, who returned it for a touchdown.

The Patriots were rendered inept on third down (a shocking 1-for-12) and managed no first downs in the third quarter, allowing Geno Smith to do his thing.

"We finally finished," Jets linebacker Calvin Pace said. "We had been in that situation numerous times, fourth quarter or overtime. It was time for us to finally get one."

The Jets' defense was dominant in the Week 2 meeting, but Smith threw that game away in the fourth quarter. They stewed for five weeks, chafed that very few people recognized how well their defense played in that game. It came off as a little whiny, but they used it as motivation.

They proved their point.

"I think this was more about our defense than who wasn't there," said Ryan, alluding to the built-in alibi that emerges every time Brady loses or doesn't play well -- i.e., depleted supporting cast. "I don't know if that was noted the last time we played. This time, we finished the job."

Surprisingly, Ryan blitzed only a handful of times, but the Jets' pass coverage frustrated Brady, who completed 22 of 46 passes for only 228 yards and no touchdowns.

Allen did a marvelous job on tight end Rob Gronkowski, who was targeted 17 times. Gronkowski made eight catches for 114 yards in his overhyped return -- but hurt his team with a killer drop late in the game.

The Jets' defense has played winning football in six out of seven games, and that's why they will hang around in this race until December. They just have to hope the defense is strong enough to compensate for Smith's inevitable dips.

"It's hard blocking us for four quarters," Richardson said.

This game went beyond four quarters, and it took an unprecedented penalty to decide the outcome. The Patriots' Chris Jones broke a new NFL rule, pushing teammate Will Svitek into Jets blocker Damon Harrison on Folk's 56-yard field goal attempt -- a miss. It was a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, giving Folk another chance from 42 yards.

The penalty was like that scene from the "Friday Night Lights" movie, the entire stadium staring at the yellow flag on the field during the frantic, final moments and wondering, "Us or them?" Considering the Jets' penchant for penalties, you had to figure they were guilty.

"I saw [the flag] right away, but I was like, 'Please be on them, please be on them, please be on them,'" Ryan said. "I think my reaction was just like our fans, because I thought I heard the whole stadium say, 'Please be on them.'"

It was them.

"It's about time we got a break," Ryan said.

This one, they earned.