Is there such a thing as a moral victory in football?
"Games like this, situations like this, creates championship teams or it creates teams that fold," said wide receiver Brandon Marshall. "I'm willing to lean on the positives with this team, high-character guys. You see the mood in the locker room. That's special. Guys care. We'll take a day to get this nasty taste out of our mouth, and come tomorrow, we'll move on."
This game had all the necessary components for a rare Patriots home loss. The offense came out slow to start the game, thanks to suffocating pressure from the Jets defensive line and a boatload of drops by the Patriots pass-catchers. The Jets offense, on the other hand, found rhythm on several of its drives and converted a host of third downs (8-of-14).
Make no mistake; the Patriots won by seven points, but they might as well have won by one. This wasn't like last week, when the Patriots beat the Indianapolis Colts by the same margin. This was not a close game because of a couple of fluke plays. This was a tightly contested game from start to finish.
"We felt like we had them right where we wanted them," said guard Willie Colon. "We came out strong in the second half. They just won. They beat us in the X's and O's, and they executed."
For more than 45 minutes, it looked like the Jets were beating the Patriots in the X's and O's area. Their defensive line was generating pressure on Brady. The offense was meticulous in moving the chains with long, sustained drives.
The Jets had a four-point lead in the fourth quarter, which turned into a 10-point Patriots lead in the final minutes after back-to-back touchdown drives. A Jets field goal, followed by a recovered onside kick, gave the Jets a chance to tie before the game was over.
That chance was squandered by a penalty on Marshall with one second remaining that resulted in a 10-second run-off, but to put it all on that one play would be misplaced blame. Brady was 11-of-13 in the fourth quarter, after starting 23-of-41 for the first three quarters.
"I'm pissed off," Colon said. "I felt like we had them. I felt like we were the better team, but obviously we weren't."
Colon probably wasn't alone in feeling the way he felt at the end of the game, but this game doesn't have to define the Jets' season, and the Jets will get one more chance this year to prove they are the better team—or at least capable of beating the Patriots.
"It's super frustrating," said Marshall. "Guys worked so hard to be in situations like this, and to come up short is frustrating, but at the same time, there's a lot of football left."
There are 10 more games on the schedule, including one next week on the road against the Oakland Raiders.
The Jets have already had their bounce-back ability tested once this season after a harrowing 24-17 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 3 with a dominant 27-14 win over the Miami Dolphins. They battled through adversity in their Week 6 win against the Washington Redskins, coming back from down 13-10 at halftime to win that game.
There may be some adversity in this game because of the final result, but the Jets gave the Patriots their most grueling contest yet. That has to count for something, and if not, their ability to bounce back after the loss will count for a lot.
"When you're able to punch through adversity, it builds a lot of character," Marshall said. "Teams either get better after games like this, or they fold."
One way or another, the final result of this game will not tell the story of the Jets' season. The way they respond to it will.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand.