FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The New England Patriots had a golden opportunity Sunday at Gillette Stadium.
Well, more than one, actually.
The main objective, of course, was to beat the New York Jets and advance to the AFC Championship Game, which would have been played at Gillette if the Patriots achieved that goal.
The second golden opportunity was the chance to shut up the trash-talking New York Jets. The boastful tone was set by shoot-from-the-lip coach Rex Ryan, who began a steady torrent of bold predictions for his team, including a Super Bowl championship, from the outset of training camp, when HBO filmed "Hard Knocks" at the team's site.
Verbal salvos were flying from Ryan and a few members of his team before the two regular-season matchups between the Patriots and Jets, but in advance of Sunday's divisional playoff game, the trash-talking reached a crescendo.
Ryan, naturally, started it, but cornerback Antonio Cromartie stepped it up a notch by, among other things, calling Patriots quarterback Tom Brady a vulgar name. And linebacker Bart Scott went Cromartie one step further by threatening to knock out Wes Welker, the New England wide receiver who made numerous references to feet in a news conference Thursday, presumably in reference to reported videos involving Ryan and his wife.
But the Jets backed up their bravado, knocking off the top-seeded Patriots 28-21.
The loss hit the Patriots like a ton of bricks, leaving them dazed, disappointed and frustrated.
Yes, they would have liked to have shut up the Jets, but the hurt ran deeper as they tried to digest the stunning loss.
"To be honest, it just hurts losing in general, if they didn't say a word or they talked like they did," Pro Bowl linebacker Jerod Mayo said. "To go out and have a performance like that is disappointing."
"Nothing hurts more than losing in general, especially at this time of the year," said Arrington. "You only get one shot. They beat us."
"I'm not going to comment on any of that stuff," Woodhead said of the pregame trash talk. "We didn't play well enough tonight. That's that."
Veteran receiver Deion Branch shrugged off the chatter from the Jets' camp.
"The talk was just the buildup to the game," Branch said. "We respect each other. If we don't, that's their problem. That's not the reason they won the game, because they talked. A couple of guys over there are first-class. There are other guys who we want to put in our rearview mirror we don't think too much about."
As Branch continued to talk to reporters, it became clear the demeanor of some of the Jets grated on him.
"I'm not embarrassed, I'm just frustrated. The embarrassing part came from a few classless guys [on the Jets] after the game," he said. "There were a lot of classless things that went on after the game ended."
Some of the Patriots didn't shake hands with the Jets after the game, but Branch did -- with some of them.
"I'm a champion. I'm always going to congratulate guys," Branch said. "They beat us today. The ones with class, I shook their hands. And the ones that didn't [have class], I didn't. You can tell they're not used to being in this position.''