Belichick and Patriots mystique takes another hit

By Larry Fine

FOXBOROUGH, Massachusetts (Reuters) - The mystique surrounding New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick and his team took another hit on Sunday with an upset loss to the New York Jets.

"I just think we didn't play well or coach well," Belichick told reporters after the top seeds were eliminated 28-21 by their AFC East rival. "We didn't do anything well enough. We just didn't do a good job."

Tactical blunders, poor preparation and sub-par execution cost the Patriots, who might have overachieved this season with a young defense and restructured offense in what had looked to be a rebuilding year for the NFL's perennial contenders.

Reinforcements to a team who featured 11 rookies should come from a bevy of draft picks as the Patriots possess two picks in each of the first three rounds of this spring's NFL draft of college players.

Still, hopes raised by a 14-2 regular season campaign and a surge over the last eight games that produced an average victory margin of nearly 22 points came crashing on Sunday.

Not much went right for Belichick and the Patriots, who once had an impeccable record for rising to the big occasion.

Tom Brady, who thrived this season after the Patriots switched to a short-passing attack, threw an interception that ended his NFL record streak at 339 passes without a pick on the first drive when he overthrew a short screen pass.

"About the safest play in the playbook," moaned Brady about the errant pass. "Not exactly the way you draw it up."

Late in the second quarter, blocker Patrick Chung called for a fake punt when he saw the Jets outnumbered on one side, hoping to run for a first down with the Patriots trailing 7-3.

Chung fumbled the direct snap, the Jets took over on downs and went on to score for a 14-3 halftime lead.

"We just made a bad mistake on the play," Belichick said.

The Patriots stumbled even before the start of the game.

Belichick benched receiver Wes Welker, one of Brady's favorite targets, for the first series for making a slew of "foot" and "toe" references during a media session that poked fun at Jets coach Rex Ryan over a foot-fetish video reportedly featuring him and his wife that surfaced on the Internet.

Jets' second-year quarterback Mark Sanchez, who threw one touchdown pass and was picked off seven times in two previous games in Foxborough, threw three TD passes and no interceptions in a Jets upset that followed a 45-3 drubbing here last month.

Last year the Patriots were belted at home by the Baltimore Ravens 33-14 at the same stage of the playoffs.

"You have such a great regular season to get yourself in a good position and we just didn't really take advantage of it," Welker said. "We didn't execute the way we should have and we paid the price."

(Editing by John Mehaffey)