One huge throw and a 'W': It's a good day for Mark Sanchez

Mark Sanchez attempts a pass during the game

Mark Sanchez attempts a pass during the game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at EverBank Field. (Dec. 9, 2012) (Credit: Getty Images)

Neil Best

Newsday columnist Neil Best Neil Best

Neil Best first worked at Newsday in 1982, then returned

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla.

Less than three minutes to play. Jets on the ropes, up by only one touchdown against the hapless Jaguars. Mark Sanchez facing third-and-8 at the Jets' 13-yard line.

If ever the beleaguered quarterback planned to repay his coach's confidence, this would be an excellent time for it.

Tight end Jeff Cumberland sprinted down the middle, splitting the safeties and found a lonely patch of grass as Sanchez set up in a well-defined pocket.

"I took the post and Mark hit me right on target," Cumberland said. "As soon as I made my break, the ball was in the air."

Thirty-seven yards later, the Jets were at midfield, having made a critical field position-turning play in a game they would hold on to win, 17-10, Sunday.

The moral of the story was heartening for the Jets and their fans, at least to a point. Just as he did during his glory days (relatively speaking) of 2009 and '10, Sanchez reminded everyone he is capable of making big plays in big spots.

But just like 2009 and '10, he did so within a carefully defined framework. The Jets played excellent defense, ran the ball with authority and mostly asked Sanchez not to mess it up. And he did not, aside from a first-half strip sack from the blind side that was more a credit to the Jaguars' Jason Babin than carelessness on Sanchez's part.

None of this means Sanchez suddenly has turned into a quarterback capable of carrying an offense, the way Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks usually must.

What it meant was that for this one week -- and presumably for the rest of the regular season -- Sanchez gives the Jets the best chance to win and perhaps even sneak into the back door of the playoffs.

That's all Ryan ever said about Sanchez in choosing him over Greg McElroy and Tim Tebow. The Jets will worry about 2013 when 2013 comes.

Guard Brandon Moore summed it up with some faint praise: "It wasn't a good game last game and there were repercussions for that. But you expected him to come out and manage the game and put people in position to make plays, and for the most part, it was OK.

"But we definitely have a lot of things we have to work on as a unit and we just have to keep trying.''

Ryan also was less than euphoric, saying "Well, I thought he was good. Obviously, he made the huge, clutch throw to Cumberland. I liked the way he played.''

Sanchez led the Jets to zero points in the first half for the second straight week, but before Ryan could be tempted to bench him in favor of hometown hero Tebow, he led an efficient touchdown drive to open the second half.

By that point, the running game was beginning to assert its dominance, and in the end, Sanchez's modest 12-for-19, 111- yard day was enough.

"That's how we do it,'' linebacker Calvin Pace said. "That's how Mike [Tannenbaum] and Rex built this team: physical offensive and defensive lines, physical running backs. That's basically the blueprint of what we do.''

Sanchez wisely refused to bite on questions that might lead to stories of redemption.

On his level of confidence: "I feel confident every week, so that didn't change.''

On Jacksonville fans wanting to see Tebow play: "Oh, it was great. I think they sold out.''

On what he thought after a second consecutive first-half shutout: "We're in a good game. We're in a close one. Take care of the football and keep rolling.''

On concern about his job security: "I can't approach it like that. In the words of Nick Mangold [the center whom Sanchez jokingly called 'one of the greatest quarterbacks of our time']: 'Go sling it. Go have fun, man.' "

When someone asked Sanchez what he thinks of the Jets' three-ring quarterback circus, the still-starter-for-now didn't flinch. "Big win'' was all he said, with a smile. "Big win.''

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