Sanchez & Jets starting fast, clicking on offense
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP)
Slow starts are a thing of the past for the suddenly clicking New York Jets.
Remember those brutally boring first quarters when they couldn't get much going? Well, those are so four weeks ago.
Mark Sanchez and the once-struggling offense have become an efficient group that has gotten on the scoreboard early and often during the Jets' three-game winning streak.
''I think we're all just playing a lot better across the board,'' Sanchez said Wednesday.
And, they've done it against some pretty good defenses. Here comes another one this Sunday: the Philadelphia Eagles, who are coming off a nine-sack performance against Miami and playing for their playoff lives in a season that has been filled with inconsistencies.
''It sounds awfully familiar to another team I know,'' center Nick Mangold said with a slight grin.
Big things were expected from the Jets' offense this season, particularly in the passing game with Santonio Holmes and Plaxico Burress. Instead, there were a few impressive spurts scattered throughout an early portion of a season marked mainly by spotty play by Sanchez, the offensive line, the running game and the receivers.
New York is ranked 25th in overall offense, but the Jets are in a real groove offensively. They have 13 touchdowns in the last three games, which ties them with New Orleans, New England and Green Bay - the top-ranked three offenses in the league - for the most in the NFL during that span.
''I don't think our practices were quite as sharp as they've been lately, and I think that carries over to the game,'' coach Rex Ryan said. ''I think you see right now our team is feeling pretty good about themselves.''
It all started in the fourth quarter against Buffalo in Week 12, when Sanchez led the Jets to a 28-24 comeback victory over the Bills with a touchdown pass to Holmes with just over a minute left. New York followed that by scoring on its first possession against Washington and then dominating the Redskins in the fourth quarter with three touchdowns in less than 5 minutes for a 34-19 win.
Last Sunday, the Jets rebounded from an embarrassing timeout on their first play from scrimmage by again scoring a touchdown on their first possession, and kept going while cruising to a 37-10 victory. While no one might confuse this offense for those of the Saints, Patriots or Packers right now, it certainly has become a force during the team's streak.
''I think hopefully we're just starting to hit our stride, and we're not there yet,'' Sanchez said.
Perhaps the biggest factor has been the Jets' efficiency in the red zone - or the ''money zone,'' as Ryan calls it - scoring touchdowns on an NFL-high 71.4 percent of their trips inside the 20-yard line. New York has TDs in each of its past 12 red-zone possessions, the best streak by a Jets team since 1993 and the most in the NFL since Indianapolis also had 12 last season.
There has also been a clear domino effect at work in the offense's surge. The offensive line is protecting Sanchez and giving him time to throw, while also creating holes for the running game.
''I think you're seeing, for the most part, consistent play out of the offense,'' right guard Brandon Moore said. ''It's finally coming to fruition as far as guys doing it on a consistent level.''
With the improved blocking, Shonn Greene appears to have regained some pep in his legs. He has a career-high 868 yards rushing, including 295 and four touchdowns in the last three games.
''Sometimes, it just doesn't click maybe when you think it will, but right now, he's running the ball extremely well,'' Ryan said. ''We're getting him a lot of touches, and this is the time of year when he usually takes off.''
The same can be said of Sanchez, who has played his best when the stakes are highest - usually in the playoffs. He's in the midst of a terrific three-game stretch in which he has thrown for 526 yards and seven touchdowns and only one interception. Cutting down the mistakes has been the key factor for the quarterback, who was being booed by the home crowd just a few weeks ago.
''As we've really gotten into probably the last five or six weeks, I think he's probably understanding more of his role as the leader, as the guy,'' Mangold said. ''I think he always knew it as a quarterback, but the focus going into a playoff run and trying to make the playoffs and everything, I think he's grasping that more and the gravity of it.''
A more-focused and serious Sanchez has been present in the Jets' locker room in recent weeks.
''When I'm here, I'm working my butt off, and that's important,'' he said. ''I just try my best to rack up wins and when it's time to have fun and goof around, you do that, and then when it's time, you have to work.''
Sanchez says the Eagles (5-8) have ''some of the best players I've seen all year on tape,'' so the Jets (8-5) know better than to take them lightly.
''We all know what the Eagles are capable of,'' left guard Matt Slauson said. ''I mean, they can ruin your day. They have a lot of weapons on their offense. On their defense, they've got every big man in the book. They are capable of being the best team in the NFL, so we have to be prepared for it.''
But, are they the Dream Team?
''No ... no,'' Slauson said. ''But they could be.''
The Jets just don't want to help that Eagles team show up Sunday in Philadelphia.
''You've got to keep the pedal to metal and keep going,'' Mangold said. ''It's going to be a difficult test for us and it's no time to rest.''
Notes: Ryan on how Eagles QB Michael Vick looked in his return last Sunday: ''He's Michael Vick. There's only one of those guys in the league. He's explosive, 4.4-speed guy and can throw a strawberry through a battleship. Looks pretty good to me.'' ... Ryan took a playful jab at the Giants when asked if the Jets will try to punt away from the Eagles' DeSean Jackson. ''I think there are people around here that might be able to answer that question better than us.'' Jackson's 65-yard punt return for a TD late last season ruined the Giants' playoff run.