Bob Glauber has been Newsday's national football columnist since 1992. He was Newsday's football writer covering the Jets
This was long after Tim Tebow had ruined the Jets' night in Denver with his 20- yard touchdown run that produced a 17-13 Broncos victory. There were no players left in the Jets' locker room except for quarterback Mark Sanchez, who limped across the room after taking an ice bath for several minutes, the water still dripping from his waist down. His right shoulder was wrapped inside a large bag of ice.
Sanchez was beaten up badly Thursday night by the Broncos' defense, which sacked him three times and hit him several more times, including a pair of late hits by rookie linebacker Von Miller, neither of which was penalized. The Jets' third-year quarterback struggled badly for a second consecutive game as his team fell to 5-5, and questions persist about Sanchez's development.
If any quarterback is going to get pounded the way Sanchez has been, both in recent weeks and in several other games this season, the chances for progress become greatly diminished. Say what you will about whether Sanchez is going to make it as a big-time quarterback, but you'd better consider the woeful protection he has received for much of the season when making any assessment.
This Jets' offensive line, blocking backs and tight ends simply haven't gotten the job done, and if Sanchez is to have any chance to right himself after this midseason slump, there will have to be a significant improvement in his pass protection. And if you don't believe me, ask the guys who are entrusted with the job of blocking for him.
"You can't blame Mark," right tackle Wayne Hunter said. "When it comes down to it, it's our job as a line -- fullbacks, tight ends, running backs -- to handle our protection and give Mark enough time. That's what it comes down to . . . but it can't happen that way. It starts up front with us."
Hunter knows he's particularly accountable for the poor blocking. He had a miserable night against Miller, who is quickly becoming one of the league's premier rushers. Hunter's play has done little to quiet the notion that he has been a poor substitute for veteran Damien Woody, who retired after the Jets made it clear they were ready to make the transition to Hunter.
But it's not only Hunter. The week before, Patriots defensive end Andre Carter had 41/2 of New England's five sacks as he destroyed left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson, who is widely regarded as one of the NFL's top pass-blockers.
In 10 games, Sanchez has been sacked 25 times. That's only two fewer than his career high of 27 from last season. He's on pace to be sacked a whopping 40 times, a completely unacceptable number if the Jets' offense is to function properly.
The line, however, is not completely at fault for Sanchez's struggles. Even in the face of heavy pressure, he has to become more accurate. His third-quarter interception that was returned for a touchdown by cornerback Andre' Goodman was on Sanchez, even if intended receiver Plaxico Burress could have done a better job coming back to the ball after it was delivered.
Sanchez also was wild on a couple of throws for Santonio Holmes in the fourth quarter. On a quick pass to his left at the Broncos' 31, he sailed a ball way over Holmes' head. On a third-and-6 later in that drive, he had Holmes open on a short pass over the middle. There was pressure up the middle, but Sanchez seemed to panic on the play and overshot Holmes again. That's the kind of play a quarterback has to make, even if he knows he's about to get hit.
The Jets settled for a field goal and went ahead 13-10. The lead wasn't big enough, though, as Tebow marched the Broncos 95 yards on Denver's final drive, capping it with a 20-yard touchdown run around left end with 58 seconds left.
Despite Sanchez's poor performance, he hasn't lost the backing of his coaches or his team. Rex Ryan offered his unconditional support the morning after the game.
"This is our quarterback," he said. "[Sanchez] is going to be our quarterback for as long as I'm here, which I hope is a long, long time."
And Holmes said after the game that he still believes in Sanchez, although he added the quarterback "has to step it up . . . I believe in him. I continue to believe in him."
There's no question Sanchez needs to elevate his level of play if the Jets are to have a chance to make the playoffs for a third straight year, but he can't get the job done if he's under the kind of pressure the Jets have allowed for most of the season.
Time for the quarterback to step it up. Time for his blockers to do the same.