The New York Jets entered Saturday night’s preseason game against the New York Giants with a big question mark surrounding the quarterback position.
They left it with far worse.
In addition to a less-than-impressive, three-interception effort from rookie Geno Smith, fifth-year veteran Mark Sanchez left the game with a right shoulder injury after being inexplicably inserted into the exhibition late in the fourth quarter.
In the moments following the final whistle of the Jets’ 24-21 overtime win, Jets coach Rex Ryan and the Jets public-relations staff said they did not know the severity of Sanchez’s injury.
Sanchez was scheduled to undergo an MRI exam on Sunday, a source told FOX Sports.
Why Sanchez was in the game — a meaningless preseason contest in which the Jets’ backup offensive line was protecting him — is the greater issue at hand. Ryan put the team’s likely starter in harm’s way in a situation in which there was very little to gain.
"It was my decision,” a defensive Ryan said of the questionable call, during a contentious postgame session with reporters.
“You’re talking about competing all week. That was my decision all the way."
Asked why he would put his potential starter at risk of an injury so late in a preseason contest, Ryan fired back, “Why compete, period? We’re there to win. We had our starting offense out there because we are trying to win the game. Injuries are part of the game."
But Ryan didn’t have his whole starting offense out there — the second-string offensive line was guarding "The Sanchise."
Smith, the rookie quarterback, said he was not surprised to see Sanchez enter the game when he did.
"I wasn’t,” said Smith, who squandered a chance to make a statement for the starting QB job with his performance.
"That was kinda the plan all along."
Matt Simms — son of former Giants quarterback Phil Simms, and the team’s third-string QB — concurred with Smith in the locker room after the game.
But Marvin Austin, the Giants player who delivered the hit that injured Sanchez, was puzzled about Sanchez’s presence on the field.
“They’ve got a huge investment in him, so I was a little surprised [he was in the game],” Austin said. "But I just looked at it like, I gotta go out there and hit him. I gotta go out there and perform and show ’em that I can play in this league. Who better to do it against than the Jets’ quarterback?”
Long before the injury, though, there was reason for the Jets to be concerned about their QB situation.
If Jets fans were hoping for the rookie Smith to seize the moment and lock up the team’s starting quarterback job with a stellar effort in the team’s third preseason game, they were left disappointed.
Smith looked more like the guy whom 31 teams passed over in April’s NFL Draft than the golden-armed savior of an NFL franchise so desperately searching for an answer at the quarterback position after last season’s Sanchez fizzle.
Smith’s opening drive, a three-and-out series that left a lot to be desired, was followed by an 84-yard touchdown run by Giants running back David Wilson on the Giants’ first offensive play from scrimmage.
Down 7-0 before even breaking a sweat, Smith — the 39th overall pick who was starting for the first time in an NFL game — took a deep breath and went to work. Aided by four straight Giants defensive penalties, the rookie led the Jets on a well-operated eight-play scoring drive capped by a 22-yard TD pass.
Smith responded with great jubilation, but the celebration was short-lived.
Next came panic, frustration and three first-half interceptions — each one uglier than the last.
Smith air-mailed two passes in the first quarter, getting picked off by Prince Amukamara and Stevie Brown, respectively. Any momentum from the early scoring drive was wiped away by the turnovers. On the Jets’ second drive of the second quarter, a jittery Smith threw a pass that was intercepted by Giants’ defensive end Justin Tuck.
In the fourth quarter, Smith took a page out of former Lions quarterback Dan Orlovsky’s book, stepping out of bounds in the back of the Jets’ end zone for a safety.
“I don’t do grades,” Smith said of his performance. “But overall, I think this is just another learning experience for me. Lots of teaching tape. Felt good to be out there with my teammates competing once again.”
Sanchez didn’t fare much better in relief of Smith. A week after squandering a chance to lock up the starting job with a statement game in three quarters against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Sanchez struggled against the Giants’ second-string defense. He was sacked on his first play from scrimmage, losing nine yards. Then he fumbled a snap out of the shotgun a few downs later. Lastly, he was injured on the hit from Austin.
The beleaguered fifth-year quarterback left the game, with just four minutes remaining, with his throwing shoulder wrapped in ice.
If the quarterback competition in Philadelphia this summer was a spirited battle between two worthy opponents, the one in New York has been anything but. Neither Sanchez nor Smith has played particularly well in any of the team’s three preseason contests, and neither has grabbed the position by the horns and made it their own.
At some point in the next two weeks, Ryan will have to name a Week 1 starter (Ryan chose not to do so following Saturday night’s game). But neither man looks the part of a bona fide NFL starter at the moment.
In many cases, we make too much of training camp and preseason games, but in this instance, you would have liked to have seen at least one of the two players take an emphatic stranglehold on the job at some point this summer. Neither has.
On Saturday, you had to wonder whether Simms — the emergency quarterback — was as capable as the other two of getting the job done. To his credit, Simms played extremely well late in the fourth quarter and in overtime. On the evening, he completed 6 of 10 passes for 120 yards and a touchdown.
In the end, though, it will come down to Smith and Sanchez.
The former, who Ryan described as "brutal" in one practice last week, has battled inconsistency and a nagging ankle injury this month. He throws the better deep ball than Sanchez, but has neither the experience nor the command of the huddle that the incumbent does.
Sanchez, meanwhile, has made multiple head-scratching errors in judgment this summer — unacceptable for a veteran. Now, he might be injured, too.
After a season that included the notorious Butt Fumble, the Tim Tebow media circus, and the unwatchable 7-6 win over the Ryan Lindley-led Arizona Cardinals, Jets fans were hoping for a different story in 2013.
At this point, however, the situation — somehow — appears even worse.