Losing games like this have defined the Jets in the post-Namath era. But what makes these losses different from other teams -- what makes them a singular Jets entity -- are the little flairs of misery that get cooked into the sorrow stew. On Sunday, it came on a Ryan Fitzpatrick desperation heave to wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins with less than a minute to play and the Jets trailing 22-17.
If Thompkins holds onto the ball, it becomes the most famous touchdown reception in Jets history. He becomes a local hero, the unheralded receiver who made the play that saved a storybook season. Who knows what a 73-yard miracle score would have meant to Gang Green? In a wide-open AFC, the Jets had as good a shot as anyone to get to Santa Clara. Maybe it goes down as the catalyst that ended a 47-year Super Bowl drought.
Only he didn't. Bills cornerback Mario Butler jarred the ball loose, denying the Jets their Joe Flacco-to-Jacoby Jones moment. Instead of one of the most famous plays in franchise history, it was simply an incompletion that preceded a game-sealing interception. An iconic franchise moment flashed into view, then disappeared into thin air.
"At the end, we had our chances," said Brandon Marshall, who still hasn't made the playoffs in his wildly productive 10-year career. "We didn't come through in our (WR) room. We've got to take advantage of that moment. That's when you get a chance to make your name, and we just didn't do that."
You don't need to be a gifted sleuth to know who Marshall was referencing. Thompkins isn't the reason the Jets lost, but his inability to make a play -- a potentially franchise-lifting, identity-shifting, career-altering play -- will linger as the final, painful "What if?" for a fan base that's tired of a waiting for a better reality.