By Larry Fine
EAST RUTHERFORD, New Jersey (Reuters) - The New York Jets fell two games off the pace in the AFC East by losing a sloppy 10-6 decision to the Miami Dolphins in a steady rain Sunday at New Meadowlands Stadium.
The Jets, who failed to score a touchdown for the second game in a row, dropped to 9-4 and slid further behind the New England Patriots, who walloped the Chicago Bears 36-7 to improve to an AFC-best 11-2.
Miami (7-6) was dreadful on offense but the Jets were worse on the scoreboard as the Dolphins turned a pair of first-quarter turnovers into a field goal and a touchdown and hung on for the victory.
"Defense played outstanding," Miami coach Tony Sparano said. "Thought those guys played really, really well."
The Dolphins were outgained 280 yards to 131 by the Jets and Miami quarterback Chad Henne was five-for-18 passing for just 55 yards, but he hit Brandon Marshall from six yards out for the only touchdown of the game.
Miami's most potent weapon was the foot of Brandon Fields, who averaged a booming 56.4 yards on 10 punts and helped the Dolphins stay afloat in a shifting battle for field position.
"I tip my cap to the punter," Ryan said. "He made a big difference in the game."
New York, coming off a 45-3 Monday humiliation in Foxborough in a first-place showdown against the Patriots, failed to take advantage of opportunities and saw their last drive snuffed out by two sacks from linebacker Cameron Wake.
Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez had a dismal day, completing 17 of 44 passes while yielding an interception and fumbling the wet pigskin four times -- one of which was recovered by Miami.
Sanchez, who steered the Jets to four comeback victories this season, was under heavy pressure from Miami defenders and had receivers drop a slew of passes.
One drop by a wide open Santonio Holmes turned a sure seven points into three for the Jets in the second quarter.
"I dropped the ball," Holmes told reporters quietly. "Inexcusable. There is no explanation for it."
Ryan said things were getting so bad for Sanchez he considered replacing him in the third quarter but decided the leaky pass protection and dropped passes were as much to blame for the inept offense as Sanchez.
The Jets inched closer with a 42-yard field goal by Nick Folk with 5:21 left in the game but could not mount a touchdown drive to win it.
"It makes you sick," Sanchez said. "I'm really upset and I think the team is too. We squandered our opportunity today.
"There were plenty of chances to win and we just couldn't capitalize on offense," he said with a nod toward three Jets fumble recoveries.
"It all starts with the quarterback on offense. It starts with me and I need to be the guy to turn it around."
The road to a possible playoff berth does not get easier for the Jets, who go on the road for their next two games against the Pittsburgh Steelers (10-3) and the Bears (9-4).
(Editing by Steve Ginsburg)