FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- With a resigned tone, New York Jets veteran linebacker Calvin Pace finally said what so many of his teammates wouldn't in assessing the wreckage of a 29-26 overtime loss to the New England Patriots.
His club, as it turns out, was up to the task, ready to take on -- and take out -- its division's Goliath.
"This is, in five years, my fifth year playing up here, this is one of the best performances I've seen," Pace said. "Three-and-outs; getting off the field on third down. I think there's always something to take from wins and losses. It's positive; it's just about the last drive, getting off the field somehow, some way."
The Jets (3-4) have somehow, some way kept their collective heads above water in October when circumstances had the football-watching nation waiting for them to drown.
And on this Sunday, when many expected the big, bad Patriots (4-3) to expose Rex Ryan's group once and for all, the Jets surmounted a 10-point deficit that held deep into the fourth quarter, took a lead with 1:37 left, then let it slip away at the end of regulation and lost in overtime. As was the case with the game against the Houston Texans two weeks ago, the Jets proved themselves to be tough, resilient, hard-nosed ... and not quite good enough to pull off a win.
"We can't leave room for error," safety LaRon Landry said. "Playing against a team like that, we have to be hitting on all cylinders, we got to make every play count. We didn't finish; we didn't execute throughout the whole game. It's a team effort; we can't just pinpoint specific plays. We lost as a team."
The trouble with that, for Landry and Co., is in this game, you could, indeed, pinpoint a few specific plays.
The Jets got to overtime in Foxborough despite yielding a 104-yard, kickoff-return touchdown by Devin McCourty immediately following their game-opening, six-minute drive of 11 plays, 76 yards and seven points. They got there even though guard Matt Slauson got whipped by Vince Wilfork early in the second quarter so badly that Slauson was shoved right into a botched handoff that somehow became a safety. Even with receiver Stephen Hill's brutal, late fourth-quarter drop, which could have allowed the Jets to take complete command in the final two minutes, they still made it there.
And once you got past all that, they somehow -- some way -- still had their shot, despite cornerback Kyle Wilson incurring a drive-extending pass-interference call in overtime.
"Take those things away, it's a completely different ballgame," tight end Dustin Keller said. "Guys out there made a lot of plays, and we had some that should've been made. Kickoff return for a touchdown, a safety -- those are things that are so hard to overcome. And we're still in the ballgame anyway."
Yes, they were, which is pretty incredible in itself.
Before the season started, many assumed Gang Green's window of championship opportunity had already slammed shut. That was before the team lost its best player, cornerback Darrelle Revis, in Week 3, and its best offensive playmaker, receiver Santonio Holmes, in Week 4.
The Monday night game against Houston two weeks ago was going to be the 15-car pileup that had been forecast since mid-summer -- until it wasn't. Just like the Patriots were supposed to emphatically restore the AFC East order, except the Jets wouldn't allow them to do so in convincing fashion.
"For all that's happened, sometimes in our city, our media market, you get that vibe," Pace said. "Last couple games, I really have been proud of how guys have tightened the reins, who have said, 'Hey, either we're gonna come together and do this or it's gonna be a terrible year.' All you can do is fight, keep fighting. Came up short today; they made a couple more plays today, but we knew that would be the difference, either way."
Keller might have put it best, in an emptied-out locker room with the buses warmed up down the tunnel to take the Jets home: "I'm not much for moral victories, but we did do some things well."
Quarterback Mark Sanchez had some really bad moments, but he was plenty good in others. New York ran the ball when it needed to, grinding out the tough yards it had to have in most cases. And on the other side, Tom Brady had those moments, like he sometimes does against Ryan, where he seemed to struggle to process exactly what he was looking at -- a credit to the Jets' defense.
"We're fighters," explained a dejected Hill. "(Trouble's) gonna come in the game. It's a lot more than we expected, but we kept fighting back and we get them into overtime. We know what we can do, we just have to go out and execute it."
So, what does it all mean? Maybe that the Jets' place in the standings describes them best: In a tie for last, but just a game out of first.
The way the schedule sets up, the month between now and Thanksgiving -- when the Jets get New England in a home night game -- should be season-defining. The Jets host the Miami Dolphins on Sunday, have their bye, then have back-to-back road games against the Seattle Seahawks and St. Louis Rams before the return match with the Patriots.
After that, at least on paper, things ease up. Which could mean a playoff run.
"We can be as great as we wanna be," Landry said. "It showed. You've seen flashes of it. We just didn't finish it. It's a work in progress. It's all up to us what we wanna do."
It's impossible to deny that the Jets have been amply tough in absorbing the Revis and Holmes haymakers.
To really matter when it counts, though, they'll have to be more than just tough. And ultimately, that'll mean finding a way to take more from a courageous effort like Sunday's than solace alone.
Follow Albert Breer on Twitter @AlbertBreer.