If the Jets are going to be a special team then quarterback Mark Sanchez needs to start playing that way.
There can’t be anymore of the “Jekyll & Hyde” performances like the one that plagued him on Monday night in the Jets' 17-3 win over the Giants. After a rocky start to the game – Sanchez completed just three of his first nine passes for 12 yards – the quarterback settled down to finish with a more respectable 8-of-16 for 64 yards and one touchdown.
“It was definitely a slow start,” Sanchez said.
But Monday night underscored that even with all the new, high-profile toys at his disposal, Sanchez can’t become an elite quarterback unless he starts to play that way. The re-signing of Santonio Holmes and bringing in Plaxico Burress and Derrick Mason are all wastes if Sanchez can’t deliver them the ball in dangerous places.
The Jets can pin the disappointment of Monday night’s poor offensive display on any number of factors, but a major factor behind their anemic offense was Sanchez’s inability to scan his downfield targets and made a quick read. The third-year quarterback looked unsettled and rarely on the same page with his talented wide receivers.
The Jets won despite an offense that accumulated just 233 yards.
“I thought Mark at times threw the ball well, he had a couple balls tipped,” head coach Rex Ryan said. “I was happy with how Mark played.”
To be truthful, it was more non-stop “happy feet” from Sanchez throughout the first four possessions of the game than all-around “happy”plays. The Jets' first four drives produced just one first down — the kind of pathetic display that puts unwanted pressure on the defense. Sanchez bobbed and weaved, missed open targets on multiple occasions and consistently rushed through his progressions.
“We have some work to do, we all know that,” Burress said. “We’ll pick it up a bit in practice, the passing game will be crisper.”
The Jets' 7-3 first-half lead was more the result of an Antonio Cromartie 68-yard kickoff return than any brilliance from the offense.
Sanchez, picked by Ryan to be a team captain three weeks ago, looked as unsettled as at any point during his previous two years in the league. On their fifth possession of the game, Sanchez was orchestrating what appeared to be a promising push into Giants territory when he fumbled a moment after the snap, gifting the Giants a turnover.
“It was a great offense other than the ball slipping out of my hand like an idiot,” Sanchez said.
Midway through the second quarter, the Jets were down 3-0 and the Giants held a 224 to 73 edge in total offense.
That’s not to say there weren’t bright spots for Sanchez. His second quarter, 17-yard touchdown pass to Holmes capped off an efficient Jets six-play, 35-yard scoring drive. Rex Ryan’s broad strokes fail to adequately cover the underlying flaws of this team and in particular, this offense.
“We struggled to say the least, at first, but then we picked it up,” Ryan said. “Games are going to happen like that against a good defense.”
And the Jets will face plenty of defenses better than the battered and beat-up Giants if they make the playoffs this season.
A Super Bowl team will only go as far as its quarterback can take them and Sanchez is showing that he may not have come far enough to take the Jets to what would be the franchise’s second ever Super Bowl. Three completions in his first nine passes against a depleted Giants secondary is not the stuff of the Lombardi Trophy and if the Jets are going to get over the hump after consecutive AFC Championship Game appearances, there needs to be significant improvement from Sanchez.
Follow Jets beat writer Kristian Dyer on Twitter @KristianRDyer for breaking news and updates all season long.