CHICAGO - Remember that slight cartilage tear in Mark Sanchez's throwing shoulder? Apparently the key word was "slight."
The Jets quarterback gave little indication yesterday that the injury that briefly threatened his availability for the game against the Bears bothered him.
With the running game sputtering early, Sanchez came out throwing, completing 13 of his first 14 passes, and never stopped in what turned into an improbable shootout at Soldier Field.
It did not take Sanchez long to answer concerns about the sore shoulder. With the Jets trailing 10-0, he was 7-for-7 for 90 yards on a possession that bridged the first and second quarters and resulted in a TD run by Shonn Greene.
There were no deep throws on the drive, but there were a variety of them, to four different receivers, and they appeared to have plenty of zip.
The magic ran out in the final minutes, and the Jets lost, 38-34, when the Bears' Chris Harris intercepted Sanchez with 51 seconds remaining.
"It's frustrating because we had chances . . . At the end of the game, I can't do that," Sanchez said. "I have to at least get us to fourth down, at least give us a chance to chip away at it. Go up, spike the ball and get us a chance to throw one in the end zone. You can't throw a pick. That can't happen.
Still, Sanchez's performance had to encourage the Jets, especially the fact that it came in relatively cold, playoff-style weather (given the Jets' now- certain postseason berth). He finished 24-for-37 for 269 yards and a touchdown. "I think he came through pretty good, but again, this could be one of those times we just rest him now . . . I thought he played well," coach Rex Ryan said. "You noticed on the sideline he kept trying to stay warmed up. I think there was some tightness so he wanted to make sure he was warming up the whole time."
Said Sanchez: "This isn't my 18th year or anything. I need as many reps as possible. But with the situation we're in now, with my shoulder, we want to see how it reacts to the game. We'll take it day by day and play it by ear. I'm with the coach. Whatever he thinks will be best for me and the team."
Sanchez disputed the characterization of his injury as a slight cartilage tear. He described it this way: "Sore."
Through three quarters, Sanchez was 19-for-26, including a drop and a throwaway, and the Jets trailed 38-31.
He twice kept the next possession alive with third-down completions, but it stalled at the Chicago 35. Sanchez soon would get another chance, though. This time the Jets went nowhere, stymied when a third-down pass attempt to Jerricho Cotchery from their 45 was tipped away by D.J. Moore.