|The Jets must now get past Pittsburgh Steelers if they are to reach a first Super Bowl since 1969 [GALLO/GETTY]
The New England Patriots admitted they were outplayed and out-coached by AFC division rivals New York Jets following a surprise 28-21 NFL playoff defeat that ruined a 14-2 campaign.
In Sunday's other contest, the Chicago Bears went through to an NFC championship contest with the Green Bay Packers by cruising past the Seattle Seahawks 35-24.
"A disappointing way to end the season," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said after Sunday's game in Foxborough, Massachusetts.
"We just didn't do enough things well today to win. That's obvious."
Quarterback Tom Brady was harassed into five sacks by an assortment of Jets blitzes and often left fruitlessly hunting an appealing target.
"They mixed it up quite a bit," said Brady, who completed just 29-of-45 passes and had his NFL-record streak of consecutive passes without an interception snapped at 339 by Jets linebacker David Harris on New England's first drive.
"It was a good plan by them, you have to give them a lot of credit. I certainly wish I had done a better job."
The Jets' upset of the Pats included three touchdown passes by Mark Sanchez as Rex Ryan's wildcard team put itself one win away from backing up his Super Bowl boast.
Santonio Holmes, best-known for a brilliant grab that won the 2009 Super Bowl for the Steelers, took a leaping touchdown catch and now is close to a shot at another title with his new team.
The Patriots – who had the league's best record during the regular season – were beaten less than 24 hours after NFC top seeds Atlanta went down with a 48-21 rout by Aaron Rodgers and the streaking Green Bay Packers.
"We came here for a reason," said Ryan, the Jets' brash coach. "We believed we were the better team. I knew if we applied ourselves, we would beat them."
The Jets will travel to Pittsburgh for their second straight AFC championship game, looking for their first Super Bowl appearance since Joe Namath boldly predicted a win in the 1969 title game – then backed up his words against the heavily-favoured Colts.
In Chicago, Jay Cutler passed for two touchdowns and ran for two more to lead the Bears.
Chicago will face the Packers in the NFC title game – the 182nd meeting between the teams over the last 90 years, but only the second time they've faced each other in a playoff.
Cutler said he was looking forward to his matchup with Rodgers.
"I texted him (Rodgers) after the game yesterday and said, 'Good game', said Cutler.
"We'll have some friendly little banter.
"Impressive win they had last night. What they did to Atlanta on the road, is hard to do... We're going to have our hands full."