EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The New York Jets put their playoff hopes in Mark Sanchez's hands against the Giants' porous pass defense.
The maligned quarterback couldn't deliver. Just like most of his teammates.
Sanchez threw a career-high 59 passes, completing 30 of them, but also had two interceptions and lost a fumble inside the 5-yard line in the Jets' 29-14 loss that was a devastating blow to their playoff hopes.
"We had a good opportunity to control our own destiny," Sanchez said. "It's completely our fault."
This was supposed to be the season the New York Jets got back to the Super Bowl and walked away with the Lombardi Trophy. Remember, Rex Ryan guaranteed it.
Well guess what? The Jets (8-7) had everything in place to make the boast come true and they gave it away over the past two weeks with a dreadful loss to the Philadelphia Eagles last week and this embarrassing setback in which Ryan's team didn't step up after a week of bragging about how good they are.
To get to the playoffs, the Jets have to beat Miami next weekend and get help, and lots of it. They have to hope for Cincinnati and Tennessee to lose, and either have Oakland or Denver lose next week to make the playoffs.
"I mean, we don't deserve to control our own destiny," linebacker Bart Scott said. "We haven't played good enough football to do that. We need to try to finish strong, but if you don't make it to the playoffs, you've got nobody to blame but yourself."
The loss to the Giants was stunning, especially after the Jets bragged they were the better team because they went to the AFC title game the past two years.
They didn't play like a title contender. After scoring on their first possession, they did nothing on offense. Sanchez turned the ball over three times, and the offense was 4 of 21 on third down and the line allowed five sacks. Defensively, the secondary missed a couple of tackles on Victor Cruz's record 99-yard go-ahead touchdown catch for the Giants and they saw Ahmad Bradshaw run over them on touchdown runs of 14 and 19 yards.
"This was a big game for us and in big games, you can't make mistakes," said cornerback Darrelle Revis, who was outstanding in defeat. "As well as we did play on defense, there were a couple of plays that we gave to them. It's real sad right now. We needed this win. We made some mistakes and they outplayed us."
Neither the Giants nor Jets looked much like playoff material, but the Giants can now win the NFC East with a victory over Dallas here next Sunday.
"To be honest with you, we need to put this one aside as fast as we can and go to work on Dallas with the same attitude we had last week," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. "Basically, I just walked into the team meeting Tuesday and said, 'if we win two, then we are in. I am not going to focus on last week's game at all, everything that we are going to do is in front of us.'
Cruz, who had three catches for 164 yards, broke Amani Toomer's single-season mark for yards receiving — and the team's record for longest touchdown reception, a 99-yarder that gave the Giants the lead for good in the second quarter.
Ryan set the tone early in the week, saying he believed his club was the better team in the area. Tom Coughlin responded by saying, "Talk is cheap. Play the game."
It was the Giants who did.
"They were the better team today, and they're the better team this year," Ryan said. "Clearly, I was wrong."
The back-and-forth continued even before the game, when Giants kicker Lawrence Tynes and running back Brandon Jacobs both removed black curtains placed by the Jets over the Giants' Super Bowl logos. The Jets said it was simply their standard practice to cover those logos for every one of the team's home games, regardless of opponent, because it is the players' entrance.
It was a brutal game at times, with both offenses sluggish and prone to mistakes. The Jets were also penalized 10 times, including a late hit call on Aaron Maybin, who plowed into D.J. Ware in the fourth quarter — a play on which Coughlin was injured out of bounds.
Eli Manning finished 9 of 27 for 225 yards, but Sanchez knew he and Ryan would shoulder the responsibility for the loss.
"I left a lot of completions out there," Sanchez said. "We just missed some things in the passing game and you just can't do that against a good defense like that."
The sloppiest stretch came midway through the fourth quarter with wild swings of momentum. The Jets got new life after an incompletion on fourth-and-1 from the 47 when Deon Grant was called for pass interference.
Two plays later, Plaxico Burress — playing against the Giants in the regular season for the first time since they cut him in 2009 and he served a 20-month prison sentence on a gun charge — was called for offensive pass interference to negate a touchdown pass.
On the next snap, Jason Pierre-Paul sacked Sanchez, who lost the ball, and it was recovered by Justin Tuck. Ryan challenged the play, and officials reversed the call, saying Sanchez's arm was going forward.
The Giants got their turnover moments later, though, when Sanchez fumbled the snap from center Nick Mangold in the end zone.
The ball changed hands again when David Harris intercepted Manning's toss that tipped off Hakeem Nicks' hands. The Jets got yet another break after Sanchez was ruled to have been sacked by Linval Joseph, who forced a fumble that the Jets recovered. Ryan challenged again, and the play was reversed, with officials saying it was incomplete.
On third-and-12 from the 13, Sanchez scrambled for 11 yards — and Antrel Rolle was called for holding, putting the ball at the 1. Sanchez rolled right on the next play and dived into the end zone, making it 20-14 with 7:17 left.
But the Jets wouldn't get any closer. Chris Canty sacked Sanchez for a safety, and after an onside free kick by the Jets was recovered by the Giants, Bradshaw had a 19-yard TD run with 2:04 left.
Cruz's 99-yard catch — the longest scoring pass in team history — came with the Giants in dire straits facing third-and-10 from the 1. Manning, standing in the back of the end zone, zipped a pass to Cruz, who dodged tackle attempts by Antonio Cromartie and Kyle Wilson and took off down the right sideline. Eric Smith was the only one with a chance to get him, but Cruz outran him to give the Giants a 10-7 lead with 2:12 left in the opening half.
It was also the longest offensive play against the Jets in team history — and a sign of the type of afternoon it would be for them.Comment on this story
"I don't want to be the second-best team in this city," Ryan said. "No chance. I'm not signing up for that. We'll play them again. We'd be more than happy to go play them right now, but we're going to have to wait four years."
Notes: DE Jason Pierre-Paul had two of the Giants' five sacks, giving him 15½ this season. ... Jets S Brodney Pool said he experienced migraine symptoms during the game, worsened after a hard hit in the third quarter when Bradshaw slammed into him. He said he was fine. ... Jets LB Garrett McIntyre hurt his knee covering the opening kickoff, and there was no immediate word on the injury.