Trailing 23-17 with 3:28 remaining in the game, Mark Sanchez came to the offensive huddle with 84 yards separating his Jets from a game-winning touchdown drive. New York marched to its own 32 yard-line facing a critical 3rd-and-18 with the game clock dwindling down toward the two-minute warning. Sanchez hurriedly raced to the line of scrimmage snapping the ball before the clock grinded to a halt slinging a pass over the middle to tight end Jeff Cumberland with the ball ricocheting off his outstretched hands and into the grasp of Texans' cornerback Kareem Jackson for an interception. In that fleeting moment Gang Green's upset hopes were put to rest.
"Could it be more in front of him? sure," admitted Sanchez of his final pass to Cumberland. "But, it's third down and half-a-mile or whatever it was. So, we have to get some yards and put us in a position to go for it on fourth down and that would have been it. But, Jeff made some great catches for us tonight. He's not going to make them all, nobody is."
For the fourth consecutive game Sanchez completed less than 50 percent of his pass attempts connecting on just 14-of-31 for 230 yards, one touchdown and two costly interceptions. Sanchez's first interception came with under 30 seconds remaining in the first half with the Jets only twelve yards away from knotting the game at 14 going into intermission.
The Jets' signal-caller targeted Jeremy Kerley on a slant pattern but Houston's star defensive end J.J. Watt deflected the pass with cornerback Brice McCain snatching the ball out of midair and racing down the sidelines before running back Bilal Powell closed ground and brought him down at the Jets' 12-yardline. New York held Matt Shaub's unit to a field goal, but the damage was already done and momentum shifted back in the Houston's favor.
"On any of those underneath routes, if you don't get those guys hands down, that's just the way it goes. J.J. is smart," said Sanchez of the tipped pass and subsequent pick. "He knows when he's not getting a pass rush. Our offensive line, for the most part, played really well tonight. They kept that guy out of there. They did their very best against a good pass rusher. He's going to get some plays, it's just inevitable."
Following a 42-yard field goal to give the Texans a 20-7 third-quarter edge, return man Joe McKnight took the ensuing kickoff 100 yards for a score, sending the MetLife stadium crowd into a frenzy and bringing the Jets back into contention. With the electricity in the building palpable, head coach Rex Ryan elected to spring an onside kick, which was nearly recovered by wide receiver Chaz Schilens but escaped his grasp and gave Houston prime field position at the Jets 46-yard line. The Texans would connect on a 22-yard field goal to extend to a nine point advantage. Even though the Jets' gamble didn't payoff, Ryan expressed no regrets.
"The thing that is upsetting is the fact that we helped them," noted Ryan of his team's poor use of timeouts. "Clearly, that's a good football team that doesn't need any help. We're kicking ourselves. We used a couple of time-outs that hurt us at the end."
Meanwhile, Wildcat quarterback Tim Tebow carried the ball five times for 19 yards, with a long run of 13 yards on the day, which set the Jets up with 1st-and-goal from Houston's three- yard line early in the fourth-quarter. Houston stymied Tebow on first down for no gain and he trotted to the sidelines watching helplessly as Sanchez misfired on two consecutive passes, forcing the Jets to settle for a field goal.
"I was hoping, with a few opportunities I could have punched one of those in, said Tebow of New York's goal line runs. "I just have to keep working and get better."
With the Jets dropping to 2-3 on the season, New York's head man refuses to acknowledge a moral victory, not taking solace in the fact his team went toe-to-toe with one of the AFC's premier squads.
"No. It's a win business," said Ryan. "Absolutely not. We knew we would be in the game, but we thought we were going to find a way to win. That was our message of the week. Obviously, we were disappointed in previous weeks with that performance, but I thought our guys did a great job in practice. I think all of us were excited to play. Like I said, it never worked out. That is a good football team and at the end of the day, they made more plays then we did."