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Jets pay a penalty for sloppy performance

Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie (31) was flagged four times, including this pass interference infraction. Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie (31) was flagged four times, including this pass interference infraction. (Ray Stubbline/Reuters)
By Albert R. Breer
Globe Staff / September 14, 2010

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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Last night’s 10-9 loss in the Jets’ first game at the New Meadowlands told you everything about where the darlings of HBO’s “Hard Knocks’’ series stand going into Week 2 against the Patriots.

New York converted just one third down. The Ravens accrued a franchise record six first downs by penalty. It wasn’t until the third quarter that the Jets’ offensive yardage surpassed their penalty yardage for good.

And yet, this was a game right up until the end.

Right up until tight end Dustin Keller waltzed out of bounds, carried only by his own momentum, after 9 yards on fourth and 10. He could have run the route a yard deeper, or reached the ball over the marker, but instead wound up on the Jets sideline with Joe Flacco and the Ravens coming on to run the final 36 seconds off the clock.

That moment was indicative of a night that fell far short of smart for the Jets, giving Bill Belichick and Co. film of their archrivals that could be set to the “Benny Hill Show’’ theme.

The good news for the Jets? It was that they were good enough to hang in, even after repeatedly shooting themselves in the foot.

“You can say we played a stupid game,’’ said Jets newcomer Jason Taylor. “We hurt ourselves in a lot of situations. We gave up too many first downs because of penalties, and it needs to be corrected. But thank God there’s another one next week.’’

That one is now just five days away, and the Jets are well aware of the challenge that’s in front of them.

A day before all of this, a Patriots team that’s been trying to turn the page on its past showed one quality that’s been its trademark. Specifically, New England didn’t beat itself, and when the opposition did, the Patriots capitalized.

So in short time, the Jets have gone from the new beast of the East to a team that looked, at least last night, like one that would play right into the Patriots’ hands, the same as the Bengals.

“We all saw their game,’’ said Jets coach Rex Ryan. “New England looked pretty darn good. There are no easy games in this league, and New England looks like they’re right at the top, so we’re going to have to play our best, no question.’’

They’re going to have play a much cleaner game than last night.

It didn’t take Vince Lombardi looking at the tape to know what the Jets were coming into this one: Potentially dominant defensively, physical but limited offensively, and with a quarterback who needed to answer a lot of questions.

All of that applied last night, so the real difference came in two categories that have everything to do with a team’s ability to play with its head, something the Jets couldn’t pull off in this street fight. The Jets had 14 penalties (for 125 yards) to the Ravens’ five (for 38 yards). And they converted just one of their 11 third downs; Baltimore made good on 11 of 19.

Add to that Baltimore’s six first downs by penalty, and it’s amazing this one was close.

“There’s no excuse for it,’’ Keller said. “We went into this game knowing this referee crew, they throw more flags than most any other crew in the NFL. So you have to go into this game knowing that you have to be real aggressive, but it’s gotta be controlled aggression.

“They’re throwing a lot of flags, but doing it both ways. Gotta be smart out there.’’

There were plenty of situations in which it made a difference.

There was a D’Brickashaw Ferguson false start short-circuiting a second-quarter surge into the red zone. And a 28-yard pass interference penalty on Antonio Cromartie (who drew four flags on the night) moving the chains on a third and 9.

Then, there was Baltimore’s final drive of the first half, buoyed by a holding call on Cromartie, a running-into-the-kicker penalty on a field goal attempt, and a pass interference call (dubious as that one was) on Kyle Wilson to put the Ravens at the goal line. And another hold on Cromartie to keep the Ravens from punting from their 1.

By the time Damien Woody drew a false start at the beginning of New York’s last possession, further handicapping an offense that already was struggling (176 total yards), it had reached a comedic level.

“We feel like we’re a better football team than that,’’ Woody said. “I keep saying it, but when you have 14 penalties, and are 1 of 11 on third down, that’s not gonna cut it. Do we feel like we’re a better team? Obviously.

“What we gotta do right now is we have to be critical of every facet of our performance tonight and just get better and start preparing.’’

The better plan would have been to be prepared for this one, an area in which the Jets seemed woefully short. Taylor was asked whether he felt the team was too loose. He quickly responded, “Hell no.’’

So if it’s not that, there’s something not right with a group that, even through all the muck last night, flashed its talent.

But the bottom line now is all that ability won’t mean much if the Jets don’t find out how to right the ship. Because this weekend, there’s a team coming here that’s pretty adept at showing an opponent just what its vulnerabilities are.

Albert R. Breer can be reached at abreer@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @albertbreer.

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