If they had it to do all over, the New York Jets would rip two plays from the official scroll of the AFC wild-card game they lost today to the New England Patriots, 26-14, and then try again.
They undoubtedly would wipe out New England linebacker Andre Tippett's crushing hit on quarterback Ken O'Brien late in the first half, and linebacker Johnny Rembert's strange, 15-yard touchdown run with a fumbled kickoff midway through the third quarter.
Doomed by those plays, the Jets went most of the second half with reserve quarterback Pat Ryan -- who had thrown nine passes this season before today -- and made too many mistakes (two fumbles, two interceptions) to beat the Patriots at Giants Stadium.
"We made the turnovers, and they didn't," said Jets Coach Joe Walton, who watched an 11-5 regular season come tumbling down around him in the second half. "That always causes trouble."
The Jets began to lose a grip on the game in the second quarter, when, with a 7-6 lead, they twice turned the ball over in New England territory. First it was Freeman McNeil's fumble on a first down from the 41; then it was free safety Fred Marion's interception of a long pass by O'Brien at the Patriots' seven on a first down at the 43.
On the bench, the Jets shook their heads. "I thought we were over it," nose tackle Joe Klecko said of making mistakes. "I really did."
Soon, New England took a 13-7 lead, a prelude to the disaster awaiting the Jets. In a last-gasp drive, O'Brien, the top-rated passer in the league, tried to throw to tight end Mickey Shuler but, as he threw the ball too low, was leveled by Tippett. After a timeout, he got to his knees and left the field.
The team doctors said he had a slight concussion. At halftime, Walton said, O'Brien was "pretty shook," but the Jets decided to give him another try in the second half.
O'Brien handed off five consecutive times on running plays, then tried a pass.
"I called the wrong formation," he said. He also didn't feel "comfortable" backing up and throwing, and that was it.
Ryan came in for the rest of the game, but O'Brien thought he could have kept on playing. The Jets certainly would have liked that. He completed 13 of his 16 first-half passes for 149 yards, including 10 in a row before Marion's interception.
"I was a little woozy, but I think the doctor was just being extra cautious," O'Brien said.
He said he didn't even know he had a slight concussion. "I feel fine," O'Brien said later. "I didn't hear it was a concussion."
By the time Ryan entered the game, it almost was too late for him to pull off the miracle for which every backup quarterback hopes. "A flash in the pan," Ryan said of his 10-for-17 day, good for 84 yards and one touchdown, a 12-yard pass to Shuler that gave the Jets a temporary lift within nine points of the Patriots late in the third quarter.
"I was hoping we would come back and win that ball game," Ryan said.
How can a team bounce back from 10 points in 15 seconds that stretch a six-point deficit to 16 points?
After Tony Franklin's 20-yard field goal made it 16-7, the Patriots kicked off. Johnny Hector, the return man, took the ball at his three and ran to the 16, where he was tackled by Rembert and fumbled. Rembert picked up the ball and ran untouched into the end zone, as Hector and his teammates sat on the ground, perhaps as dazed as O'Brien was on the sideline at the time.
"I didn't try to get up because I thought I was down," Hector said. "The ball was still between my legs when I was on the ground. Somebody came in and slapped the ball, but I thought I was down."
There was a penalty flag thrown on the play, and it looked like it was thrown on the Patriots, which would have nullifed the touchdown. But the call went against New York's Billy Griggs, a first-year player from Virginia, for illegal use of hands. The penalty was declined, and the touchdown stood.
"I've never seen a play like that," Griggs said, "and I hope I never see another one."
The Jets averaged less than two turnovers per game this season but had four today. Putting themselves in a deep hole, they never could get out.
The Jets' defense had hoped to put pressure on quarterback Tony Eason but also had problems, giving up 179 yards on 12 completions.
"We had not been handled or dominated all year," Klecko said. "Without a doubt, this was the best team we played all year.
"I guess we weren't tough enough for the Patriots, that's all."