After a week of intense criticism in the wake of a fourth quarter collapse in Denver, Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez shook off a rocky first half to put together arguably the best two quarters of football he’s played this season.
Sanchez’s 16-yard touchdown pass to Santonio Holmes late in the fourth quarter gave the Jets yet another improbable win when they looked down and out.
Few Jets fans saw the second-half performance coming from Sanchez, especially after a brutal first half where the quarterback was far from adequate.
“It wasn’t the best first half, but we knew if we kept hanging in there. We have complete faith in Mark. He’s done it before,” head coach Rex Ryan said. “I think he’s had more over the last two years — fourth-quarter comebacks — than any quarterback in the league. I think that speaks enough about Mark.”
The up and down performance by Sanchez underscored the Jekyll and Hyde trademark of the third-year quarterback. On the Jets’ opening two drives, Sanchez failed to complete a pass in his first four attempts. He rebounded to lead a 10-play, 78 yard touchdown scoring drive on their next possession, including a three-yard pass to tight end Dustin Keller. But as if that was all a tease, Sanchez threw an interception into double coverage on the next drive.
Down 24-21 midway through the fourth quarter, Sanchez orchestrated the 12-play drive that gave the Jets the lead, weaving the offense down the field 82 yards and then coolly and masterfully finding Holmes for the go-ahead touchdown.
“It felt good. We’ve been in that situation before; we rep it all the time in practice,” Sanchez said. “Game’s on the line, we had to win and we made plays to do it.”
But Sanchez hasn’t done “it” much this season and that’s part of the problem.
Earlier this week, Ryan gave roughly a half-dozen snaps in practice with the first team to backup quarterback Mark Brunell, a player who has thrown less than a handful of meaningful passes in meaningful games during his two years with the Jets. Ryan admitted it was a gimmick designed to get Sanchez “hot under the collar,” but the young quarterback took exception to the stunt. After the interception today and some poor passes in the third quarter, the boos rained down on him from the Jets faithful at MetLife Stadium.
“This is a lot bigger than that. That’s a motivational tool Rex uses; you have to take it all in stride,” Sanchez said. “This game and this season is a lot bigger than that.”
While it is impressive that Sanchez turned in a solid performance in the win — going 9-of-15 for 114 yards and two touchdowns in the second half — at some point he has to put in a complete four quarters for his team. The Jets are giving him adequate protection and the ground game, led by Shonn Greene averaging six yards a carry, is giving him the balance on offense that is needed.
Ryan called Sanchez a “stud” and the “Sanchise” after the game in his press conference, but for Sanchez to live up to those names he has to start playing that way every game, all-game. For now, the 6-5 Jets can revel in the second half display by their quarterback.
“That second half, Mark was poised back there, made some huge plays,” Ryan said. “It was big time. That’s what we always said about Mark, that he’s at his best in big moments and certainly today you can’t get a bigger moment than what we had.”
Follow Jets beat writer Kristian Dyer on Twitter @KristianRDyer.