Timing is everything in sports, and it has become alarmingly apparent that this year’s edition of the New England Patriots is cosmically impaired.

Matthew Slater and/or Bill Belichick and/or referee Clete Blakeman’s inexplicable decision to say Stephen Gostkowski would kick after the Patriots won the overtime coin toss on Sunday, leading directly to a 26-20 overtime loss to the New York Jets, is the least of their problems.

Yes, the four-time and defending Super Bowl champions likely will enjoy home field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs. You can credit the gridiron gods for ensuring that the Patriots’ closest pursuers, Denver and Cincinnati, failed to overcome their own mounting injury tolls, including but not limited to their franchise quarterbacks.

At least the Patriots still have Tom Brady. (My goodness, the temptation of fate required simply to type those words frightens me beyond my capacities of expression.) What they lack right now is health and stability everywhere else, which is why the idea of beating two good teams at home in January is sheer folly.

Most of us only had to watch about five minutes of Sunday’s first quarter from East Rutherford before indigestion set in. That was enough time for blind side block of granite Sebastian Vollmer to be carted off with what is almost certainly a season-ending left leg injury.

It was an ample window to watch Rob Ninkovich and Dont’a Hightower hobbling as if they were victims of the old itch cream in the jockstrap trick. The Jets promptly responded with a running game that gashed the heart of the Pats’ defense for double-digits per pop on the regular.

If the Jersey Jerks had a quarterback who was anything more than a stopgap who had never known a winning season in his professional life until now, missing open receivers at every turn, it would have been 21-0 out of the chute.

Until Sunday, I subscribed to the fanboy notion that as long as you give me a healthy Brady and Rob Gronkowski, you’ve given me a chance. I no longer believe that, and if you do, you also accept such statements as “Santa Claus is comin’ to town” and “NFL referees usually get it right” as incontrovertible fact.

The Patriots made it obvious Sunday that they are grasping at straws with Vollmer, Dion Lewis, LaGarrette Blount, Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola in absentia. They turned to all the desperation, cutesy strategies that their opponents customarily employ in an effort to not get killed.

Brandon Bolden, a pedestrian running back on his best days, lined up at flanker on the first play. Flea-flickers were the primary and mostly failed method of creating space for Gronkowski, the only back or receiver on the field whom the Jets found even remotely threatening.

The Patriots ran third-and-one dives with Joey Iosefa and Steven Jackson, two guys who were available to 31 other teams with no takers in the not-too-distant past. In the ultimate if-you-can’t-beat-‘em-join-‘em tactic, they (to limited avail) even ran the dastardly wildcat offense that they have shown a historic inability to stop.

Given the opportunity to carve out the “double possession” that has made it so productive after winning the pregame coin toss, New England instead wisely if depressingly to kneel on a 10-3 deficit at the half, shortening the misery much as possible. That wisdom was confirmed when Brady gift-wrapped an interception to rent-a-corner Darrelle Revis two minutes into the second half.

I know, I know. The Patriots rallied from certain death to make a game of it with their JV team.

And I know, I know. You believe in fairy tales. Edelman and Amendola will be back for the playoffs. And the Patriots already have earned a bye week, furnishing an extra six or seven days to cure whatever is ailing Ninkovich and Hightower.

Medical and sports science tell us the Patriots will be able to put those guys in uniform and full pads and create the illusion that Brady has the full complement of receiving weapons at his disposal. Common sense should tell us that we’re dealing with a broken foot and a balky knee, and that the yards-after-catch that make those dudes who they are simply won’t happen. It’s also unthinkable that any combination of Jackson, Iosefa, Bolden and James White will generate enough of a running game to keep any non-AFC South defense honest.

New England will go to Miami, pray that the Dolphins have mailed in their season, then return home to begin what is at least a nominal title defense. Barring a miracle, it will be a one-and-done situation.

December 2015 and January 2016 simply aren’t the Patriots’ time. If you haven’t arrived at that conclusion yet, I can’t imagine what you’re watching.

Kalle Oakes is a staff writer. His email is [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @oaksie72 or like his Facebook page at www.facebook.com/kalleoakes.sj.


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