Mark Sanchez gets season off with a bang
Was there any better scenario for Mark Sanchez to begin his season than the one that unfolded Sunday in a blowout win over the Bills? Could Sanchez have answered his skeptics any better than the way he did in one of the best individual performances of his career, especially after a preseason in which neither he nor his celebrated backup produced so much as a single touchdown drive?
Don't think so.
Sanchez threw for 266 yards and three touchdowns, compiling a 123.4 rating on the way to a resounding 48-28 win over the Bills at MetLife Stadium.
Except for an admittedly boneheaded toss in the direction of Jeff Cumberland, which ricocheted off the tight end and was picked off to end the Jets' first possession, Sanchez was flawless in executing an offense that had come under an absurdly high level of preseason scrutiny. He worked wonders with new offensive coordinator Tony Sparano's scheme, throwing two touchdown passes to rookie Stephen Hill and another to second-year receiver Jeremy Kerley. He would have had a fourth, but Santonio Holmes was ruled out of bounds on a very close play late in the second quarter.
Yes, it's only one game and there is plenty of time for drama later in the season. But Sanchez needed to have a statement game and needed to show that the confidence he'd expressed so often in the preseason could translate into results. He did just that, getting the season off in fine form and demolishing any lingering memories of a month's worth of doubts about the offense.
Tebow, meanwhile, proved to be a mere afterthought, rushing for only 11 yards on five carries. He even heard a smattering of boos when he was held to no gain on second-and-6 from the Buffalo 12 late in the second quarter.
In the end, the day belonged to Sanchez.
"It was a tremendous day for Mark," coach Rex Ryan said. "We wish we had that [interception] back, because he had one heck of a day."
Sanchez knew the interception after his scramble to the left was the last thing that should have happened. But it was his subsequent reaction to it that set the tone for his day.
"I should have just tucked it and run, but I kept my head," he said. "[The game] kind of goes as the quarterback goes. If you hang your head a little too low, then guys will start to question. If you keep your head up and stay focused and stay calm and stay into it, you come back on the next drive."
That next drive resulted in the first of his three TD passes, a 12-yarder to Kerley in the right corner of the end zone. He connected on a 33-yard TD pass to Hill on the next drive and helped the Jets take a 27-7 halftime lead. The Jets extended that to 41-7 on Sanchez's 17-yard touchdown pass to Hill before they eased off the pedal and allowed Buffalo to get as close as 41-28.
A good first step. A very good first step.
"He's throwing it very well and so accurate," tight end Dustin Keller said. "Even in practice, you put your hands up and he puts it right there. And his decision-making, it's just a perfect combination."
But as good as Sanchez's mechanics have been, his mindset has been even better. Rather than take Tebow's presence as a threat, he has embraced it.
"For most guys, it would be a tough thing to take, but Mark has made the most of it," Keller said. "He and Tim are really good friends and you always see them in each other's ears, talking about things, picking each other's brains. It's been a great thing and I don't think anybody outside of the locker room would have thought that. They would have thought it was something tough, maybe would frustrate somebody, but it's not that at all."
Sanchez explained that he has "bought in, just like everybody on the team. Not just for the Wildcat, but for the feeling of us as a team and a unit. Transcending football, we're a family, a tight-knit group. We knew Tim could come in and help us. He's an explosive guy. He can help this offense."
One game -- one very important game -- and the Jets' season is off to a promising start. But no more than that, especially with the Steelers up next in Pittsburgh. No one knows that better than the star of Sunday's game.
"It's a great way to start," Sanchez said. "It's exactly what you want in your home opener. We'll celebrate for another couple of hours and we have to get ready for Pittsburgh, because that's going to be another tough challenge on the road. We have a lot to go here."