Mark Sanchez won more than a game for the New York Jets on Sunday. He won over a team. On an afternoon when he was not always sharp, and at times baffled, the Jets' rookie quarterback showed his teammates they could rely on him when things get tough. He also showed that while he may not always be able to win a game for them he is willing to get knocked about trying.
Facing not only a tough Tennessee Titans' defence but also a desperate opponent willing to do anything to avoid a 0-3 start after going 13-3 a year ago, Sanchez started off hot; struggled through a second quarter; then delivered a six-yard touchdown pass into tight coverage in the third quarter to get the lead back for good in a 24-17 victory that made him the first rookie quarterback in NFL history to start a season 3-0.
"It never went perfect but that was a fierce pass rush he was up against and he showed a lot of guts," the Jets head coach Rex Ryan said of Sanchez, who was 17 of 30 for 171 yards with two touchdowns, one interception and two fumbles. In other words it was an up and down day but such is life in the NFL. The key thing was he got up from the downs and, at the end of the day, found a way to win. "He's not going to have great games all the time," said the Jets linebacker Bart Scott. "He's not going to have a high completion percentage every game. But he showed grit."
That was never truer than when Sanchez lowered his head and rammed into a pile-up of Titan tacklers near the goal line on a 14-yard scrambling run in the first quarter. Sanchez dived forward, kept pushing and finally reached out with the ball as he was going down to get it over the goal line for a touchdown. While more conventional heroics would be required later, that run lifted a team still learning about its new leader. What it learned was that he is willing to play as hard as they are.
"That is the way I've been playing since I was little," Sanchez said. "When it's on the line like that, if I need to dive for a first down or a touchdown, that is what I am going to do." "That run told me that he wanted to be successful," added the left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson. "I'd rather it be that way than have somebody who's tentative. Go for it. That speaks volumes." So does the young man who replaced Brett Favre. At one end of the quarterbacking spectrum is the soon-to-be 40-year-old Favre, who had his own last-second heroics on Sunday when he delivered a scrambling 32-yard touchdown pass with two seconds left to keep the Minnesota Vikings undefeated. At the other stands Sanchez, a baby-faced assassin who a year ago was playing college football.
The former long ago proved his bona fides to the NFL. Sanchez has yet to do that but Sunday was a step in that direction, especially when he bounced back from fumbling twice and throwing two near interceptions to rifle a 46-yard pass to Jerricho Cotchery in the fourth quarter that set up the final field goal and the 10-point margin of victory. "A lot of quarterbacks do the chuck and duck and don't give their team a chance to win," Scott said.
What he meant was Sanchez is willing to bow his head and run into a wall of defenders or stand in the pocket with a fierce rush around him and deliver the ball rather than throw it away to avoid a hit. There remains a long road between that and accomplishing anything meaningful, of course, but standing in there is a start and so is the fact Sanchez has the Jets off the runway believing they have a young pilot who knows where he is taking them.