The interception was the first sign something was wrong: That old playoff magic wasn't there for Tom Brady.
The Patriots' quarterback was picked off for the first time in three months, and things didn't improve much as the trash-talking New York Jets sacked Brady five times to win 28-21 on Sunday and advance to the AFC title game. It was the third consecutive playoff loss for the Patriots and their jet-setting star.
"I think we're a pretty good football team," Brady said. "But not when we play the way we did today."
Brady completed 29 of 45 passes for 299 yards and two touchdowns, one of them in the final minutes after New England spent most of the second half trailing by two scores.
But he struggled to finish off drives. Brady was picked off by David Harris when he overthrew a screen pass from the Jets 28-yard line in the first quarter; took a sack and settled for a field goal after driving to the Jets 7 on the next possession; turned the ball over on downs at the New York 34 in the fourth quarter; and then, trailing by 10, settled for a field goal after the two-minute warning.
"We just couldn't get the ball in the end zone when we needed to," Brady said.
The Patriots were an NFL-best 14-2 in the regular season and the favorites to win the Super Bowl as the playoffs began. But their season ended one day after the Atlanta Falcons, the No. 1 seed in the NFC, lost to the Green Bay Packers.
"I don't care about that," tight end Alge Crumpler said. "All I care about is what happened in the last three hours, and it wasn't good. And I've got to deal with it."
Brady did not throw an interception in his last 335 attempts of the regular season — dating to Week 6. He finished the season with 36 touchdown passes and four interceptions, making him the favorite to win a second NFL MVP to go with the one he earned in 2007.
The Patriots went 16-0 in the regular season that year, but they blew a chance at a perfect finish when they lost to the New York Giants in the Super Bowl. After missing the playoffs in 2008 when Brady was injured, New England fell to the Baltimore Ravens in its only playoff game last year.
Sunday's loss makes it three in a row for the franchise that won three championships from the 2001-04 seasons. And this one is especially disappointing for a team that was playing a trash-talking rival that denigrated Brady and dredged up the videotaping scandal that is the biggest taint on New England's decade of dominance.
"I think our expectations this season were very high," Brady said. "To finish the way we did, we won a bunch in a row against some very good teams and played well. But you know, playoff football comes and really it comes down to who makes the plays, and we made too many mistakes."
The Jets beat New England 28-14 in September, but the Patriots responded with a 45-3 victory in Foxborough in Week 13 that sent them on their way to the AFC East title and left New York wondering if it — or anyone else — could compete with the three-time Super Bowl champs.
Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis said Brady looked "a little confused" with the way they mixed up their blitzes.
"We have seen him before," Revis said. "We saw it in the first game when we played him. In the second game, he seemed more focused. This game he was a little confused out there."
(This version CORRECTS Corrects to Darrelle Revis in 14th paragraph.)