Few teams can shrug off a playoff loss to a bitter rival and immediately accept their season as a success. The Jets may not be able to do that in the wake of their 37-16 loss to the Patriots in an AFC wild-card playoff Sunday, but they have no reason to hang their heads. New York entered this game knowing as an overmatched squad, but it still made New England sweat before being buried in the fourth quarter.

The Patriots' first drive showed why the Jets were heavy underdogs. Tom Brady and Co. spread the ball around, and the Jets defensive line was dominated against the run, a problem that would haunt them all day long. Some New England missteps -- running out of a first down and a fumble -- let the Jets back in the game, and at one point, the Jets took a 10-7 lead. But as they've done so many times, the Patriots closed the first half well and entered the locker room up 17-10.

The Jets couldn't be happy playing from behind. They stalled in the red zone on the first drive of the second half, settling for a field goal and depriving themselves of momentum. The turning point came late in the third quarter, when Chad Pennington had a passed knocked down at the line of scrimmage. At first, it appeared to be just an incomplete pass, but the Pats' Vincent Vilfork, realizing it was thrown backwards, ran the ball back to the Jets 15 yard line. The mistake resulted in a Patriots field goal.

The Jets used another kick in the fourth quarter brought them to within seven points, but New England responded when it counted.

They didn't play their best football on Sunday, but that shouldn't be a surprise or a discouragement. Coach Eric Mangini won this season without having a chance to fill the roster with players he finds ideal for his system. As the burst of energy that follows any new coach's arrival fades, the right players should help fill the void. Sunday's result shouldn't block the hope that the Jets can become a true contender in the next two seasons.

Photo of Bill Belichick hugging Eric Mangini by AP/Michael Dwyer - they really do love each other!