Shonn Greene, Bilal Powell lead Jets over Jacksonville Jaguars
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Mark Sanchez insisted there was no trepidation in his game.
The threat of being yanked for a second straight week, he said, was never a factor, even as the Jets' offense sputtered through another barely watchable first half against a weak opponent. "I feel confident every week,'' he said, "so that doesn't change."
Though his demeanor may not always reflect it, Sanchez Sunday proved he can handle the spotlight. Playing in Tim Tebow country, Sanchez did just enough to keep the Jets within striking distance, and the running game (166 yards) did the rest. Behind another strong defensive effort and rushing touchdowns by Shonn Greene and Bilal Powell, the Jets defeated the 2-11 Jaguars, 17-10.
It wasn't a barnburner by any means, but it was a win nonetheless for the Jets (6-7). And to the surprise of almost everyone, Rex Ryan's team is still alive in the playoff hunt, aided by the losses of the Steelers, Bengals, Dolphins and Bills.
But it's far too early for playoff talk, said linebacker Bart Scott, who made his first interception since 2006. "We don't even deserve the right to talk about the playoffs," he said.
All eyes were on Sanchez, who was benched in the second half last week in favor of third-stringer Greg McElroy. But with the potential of running back Joe McKnight (migraines) being limited against the Jaguars, Ryan chose to sit McElroy and activate backup Kahlil Bell. Tebow, still nursing two fractured ribs, would have replaced Sanchez if necessary. But it never came to that.
Sanchez (12-for-19, 111 yards) didn't have a breakout game, but after throwing three interceptions last week against the Cardinals, he didn't throw a pick. He was, however, strip-sacked in the second quarter by lineman Jason Babin, who recovered the ball at the Jaguars' 43.
"You put extra emphasis on it and be real smart with the football," Sanchez said. "That was the case, and it was a good, efficient day for all of us."
The Jaguars led 3-0 until 9:11 was left in the third quarter, when Greene (20 carries, 77 yards) ran in a 1-yard score. It was the first Jets touchdown in their last 17 possessions with Sanchez at quarterback. After Nick Folk's 44-yard field goal with 2:53 to play in the third, Powell (19 carries, 78 yards) scored on a 4-yard run to make it 17-3 with 12:20 left in the fourth.
"I liked the will of our players," Ryan said. "It obviously wasn't going great in the first half. We stayed the course, started protecting the football better, and I thought the offensive line really took the ballgame over, as well as our defense in the third quarter."
The Jets have given up only one touchdown in two games, a 32-yard run by the Jaguars' Montell Owens. The unit also limited Jacksonville to two third-down conversions on 16 attempts (12.5 percent) after shutting out the Cardinals (0-for-15) on third down.
Asked about the offensive line, Sanchez said: "They just keep getting stronger. It just seems like they hit harder as the quarters go on."
During pregame warm-ups, Sanchez spoke to his friend and former backup quarterback Mark Brunell, a Jacksonville resident. Asked jokingly if Ryan had offered Brunell some pregame practice snaps, Sanchez replied with a smile: "Who's Brunell? Or McElroy? Or Tebow? Which one? I think we're all ready to go."
Despite the Jets' conservative play-calling -- except for Sanchez's 37-yard strike to tight end Jeff Cumberland on third-and-8 at the Jets' 13 with 2:56 remaining -- Sanchez doesn't think the coaching staff has lost faith in his ability to make big plays.
"I don't think so," he said. "You have to ask Coach. But I feel good."
Said Ryan: "I thought he was good. Obviously, he made the clutch throw to Cumberland at the end of the game. That was a huge play for us. I liked the way he played."
The Jaguars -- who again were without star running back Maurice Jones-Drew, as well as several other key contributors -- made it interesting after Owens scored with 7:06 remaining. But their final drive, which featured a 28-yard completion to Jordan Shipley on fourth-and-15, ended when Ellis Lankster intercepted Chad Henne with 15 seconds left.