Sanchez Can’t Lift These Jets
By GREG BISHOP
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J.
The next-to-last pass Mark Sanchez threw late Monday night hit his tight end in the hands, bounced into the air and settled in the arms of a defender. Sanchez supporters — and yes, they do exist, if only in ever-decreasing numbers — were quick to point out that this particular interception, his 57th in 52 regular-season games, was not his fault.
They were right.
But it said something, about Sanchez and the Jets, that it seemed safe to expect a turnover there, that an interception seemed as likely, or more likely, than any of the alternatives. It seemed less a matter of if, and more a matter of how.
Through three complete seasons and roughly a third of a fourth, Sanchez has proved that he can win games, even playoff games, with the right kind of team around him.
This is not that team.
This team is without its best defensive player, Darrelle Revis, and its best offensive playmaker, Santonio Holmes. This team needs new receivers, new running backs and a new right tackle — and that is only on offense.
This team threw every wrinkle at the Houston Texans on Monday night, except for putting Sanchez at cornerback. The Jets converted a fake punt. They returned a kickoff for a touchdown. They played a cornerback at wide receiver. Three players took direct snaps. This was gimmicky football, and at times it worked and confused the Texans.
Other times it confused the Jets.
Sanchez did not play poorly, although he did not play well. There were times he overthrew receivers, times he held the ball too long, times he looked skittish and confused. That is Sanchez, has been Sanchez, will be Sanchez unless the cast around him is improved.
Afterward, teammates rushed to his defense in ways they did not rush to the football. They said that Sanchez gave them a chance to win against the Texans, a team ranked among the N.F.L.’s best through the first quarter of the season. They noted his 230 passing yards. His scoring strike to Jeff Cumberland, he of the dropped second-to-last pass.
“It was a great effort,” Joe McKnight said.
He, too, was right. If you believe in moral victories.
Sanchez’s supporters have relied on the same argument for the past two seasons in regard to his credibility: that the Jets reached back-to-back A.F.C. championship games in his first two years as quarterback. They ignore important points. Those were better teams. More complete teams. Less injured teams. Sanchez was expected less to win games and more not to lose them. The Jets often won despite Sanchez, not because of him.
These Jets, the 2012 version, need Sanchez to carry them, as both injuries and losses mount. He has never proven equipped to do so.
The front office has not helped him. Behind Holmes, who limped through the locker room Monday night on crutches, the Jets are model thin at wide receiver. Their offensive line, which lost another irreplaceable piece in Nick Mangold for a stretch Monday, often fails to give Sanchez adequate time to throw.
The way Monday night unfolded, the Jets’ best receiver was Jeremy Kerley, a fifth-round draft pick better suited for a complementary role. Their best tight end was Cumberland, who caught the touchdown but dropped the crucial pass. Their best playmaker was McKnight, the third-string running back who scored on the kick return.
Think Tom Brady would win with those guys? Think Aaron Rodgers would?
“We’re not worried what anybody else thinks,” Sanchez insisted afterward, although he sounded more like an engineer vouching for those really nice deck chairs on the Titanic. “I know we have great personnel; we really do.”
That is your 2012 Jets team slogan: We’re really trying!
Those are your 2012 Jets: 2-2 entering Monday night and still heavy underdogs at home, so in need of offense that unemployed castoffs like Terrell Owens clamor on social media to be signed, so in need of positive vibes that Mark Gastineau used his halftime ring of honor induction speech to chastise the fans for booing.
At the center of this mess is Sanchez. So much of what went wrong Monday night had nothing to do with him: the running backs who averaged three yards per carry; the line that sent him scampering about; the coaching staff that substituted Tim Tebow in and out.
Tebow, the popular backup quarterback, who overshadows the man he would replace, made his greatest impact yet for the Jets against the Texans. The cries for him to replace Sanchez will only grow louder and last longer.
That is the deal the Jets made when they traded for Tebow in the off-season. To some, the Jets simply upgraded at backup quarterback, but they failed to factor in the unintended consequences: its effect on Sanchez, all his shuttling in and out, the rhythm lost, the constant job threat.
Tebow and Sanchez said the right things again Monday. They wanted to help the team. They wished they could change a play or two. They would get this figured out. Still, the specter of Tebow and how he fits into this season and how he might perform compared with Sanchez lingered afterward, same as always, same as forever, unless the Jets hand Tebow their talent-bereft roster, at which point there is no turning back.
“He played better than his numbers indicate,” Coach Rex Ryan said of Sanchez.
He was also right. Still, those numbers set a low bar. For the fourth consecutive game, Sanchez completed fewer than half his passes. For the third straight game, he threw an interception. For another game, the crowd booed him and chanted for his backup. This is what the Jets have created.
The Texans, meanwhile, reinforced two popular notions Monday night. The Jets are not a championship team as constructed. And Sanchez is not a championship quarterback.
With this roster, thin and now absent a host of injured players, there is no such thing as a championship quarterback.
In 2012, that is where the Jets have landed. It is not Sanchez’s fault. And he is not the solution.
So how do they measure progress? A “good loss” on a Monday night?