The Jets, at the very least, are playing for pride. But Mark Sanchez might be playing for job security.
Though their mediocrity stems from varying degrees of injuries and lack of talent, both teams are desperate for a win.
Though Rex Ryan has downplayed any playoff talk, he has remained firm in his objective of finishing out the season 5-0.
The first step toward that goal starts Sunday. With Sanchez.
The fourth-year quarterback needs a strong performance to erase the aftertaste of the Jets' Thanksgiving Night debacle against the Patriots. Of course, one win against a bad team isn't enough. But Sanchez -- who is slated to earn $8.25 million in guaranteed money next season -- can build off a strong performance against the Cardinals and four more pedestrian teams (Jaguars, Titans, Chargers, Buffalo).
"It's important for all of us,'' Sanchez said of the five-game stretch. "Being the quarterback of a team, there's always more pressure and attention at that position, so I don't treat it differently than anything else. We just need to win some games here. We've done it in the past, so hopefully we'll do it again.''
The Jets haven't won back-to-back games since Weeks 13 and 14 of the 2011 season.
The Cardinals have had their own share of quarterback issues. Coach Ken Whisenhunt has used three different QBs this season, including rookie Ryan Lindley after backup John Skelton struggled in the absence of injured starter Kevin Kolb (ribs). Kolb, the Cardinals' best option, is questionable for the game.
Given Arizona's makeshift offensive line, the Jets' defense shouldn't have trouble disrupting either Lindley (who was picked off four times by the Rams last week in his first NFL start) or a veteran quarterback nursing an injury. But it'll be up to Sanchez to prove he can hold his own against the Cardinals' defense, which is ranked seventh overall and fourth against the pass.
Complicating matters for the Jets are the nagging injuries to their corps of wide receivers. Clyde Gates (concussion) did not practice during the week and is out; Jeremy Kerley (heel/hamstring/illness) and Chaz Schilens (concussion/hip) are expected to be active. To shore up the unit, which also includes inconsistent rookie Stephen Hill, the Jets signed former Eagles receiver Mardy Gilyard.
But if Sanchez (41 turnovers the past two seasons) can't protect the football against the Cardinals (fifth overall in interceptions with 15), it won't matter how many wideouts the Jets suit up.
"The most important things are just taking care of the football and eliminating some of the self-inflicted penalties and turnovers that we've had,'' Sanchez said. "If we do that, we kind of get out of our own way.''
Ryan defended his starting quarterback during the week, saying the entire offense needs to improve. Quarterbacks coach Matt Cavanaugh did the same, citing Sanchez's youth. But he was quick to point out that Sanchez's play has been inconsistent.
"You've got to experience all these setbacks, learn from your mistakes, and I think he's doing that," Cavanaugh said. "When the team's struggling, they become more glaring. And that's not shying away from it being an issue, but in the last couple weeks, I think he's played better.
" . . . It's hard to ask for patience when you're 4-7, but I think with a young quarterback who's got talent, you have to be patient.''
The Jets, however, are running out of time for Sanchez to prove his mettle. The organization has invested far too much money in him to cut ties before the 2013 season. But five games might be all Sanchez has left to prove -- as Ryan has said all season long -- that he does in fact give the Jets the best chance to win.