Courtesy of the Boston Bruins, the New England Patriots brought the Stanley Cup to midfield for Sunday’s pregame coin toss against the New York Jets.
Too bad Mark Sanchez wasn’t part of New York’s player contingent. It might have been the closest he gets to a championship trophy.
Now in his third season, this was supposed to be the year Sanchez blossomed into the kind of passer who at least could hold his own against the Tom Bradys of the NFL. Jets head coach Rex Ryan and numerous teammates gushed during the preseason that they were certain Sanchez would take the next step beyond being a caretaker-style quarterback.
Hoping hasn’t made it so.
The difference between Sanchez and Brady was on display again Sunday in New England’s 30-21 win at Gillette Stadium. Brady was 24 of 33 passing for 321 yards with one touchdown and one interception, which was tight end Aaron Hernandez’s fault on an end-zone bobble.
Sanchez actually finished with a slightly higher quarterback rating than Brady, but that statistic doesn’t reflect what little impact he made in comparison.
Although he had two touchdown passes, Sanchez’s longest throw spanned a mere 22 yards (Brady connected on a key 73-yarder to Wes Welker to open the second half). Remarkably, Sanchez didn’t even attempt to throw deep against the NFL’s 32nd-ranked secondary. He had only 70 passing yards entering the fourth quarter.
But the most damning statistic was New York’s third-down performance. Sanchez completed four of nine passes for 44 yards and was sacked twice. The Jets converted on just three of 11 attempts overall, including a stretch of four consecutive three-and-outs to open the game and a stretch of three consecutive three-and-outs in the third quarter.
The trickle-down effect such ineptitude had on New York’s defense was devastating. New England chewed 6:12 off the fourth-quarter clock on a 13-play drive — 11 of them runs — against a gassed unit that ended with the 28-yard Stephen Gostkowski field goal that clinched the victory with 1:02 remaining. Pats running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis finished with 136 yards on 27 carries.
“We were going to need some big plays on third down,” said Sanchez, whose team had 26:05 in time of possession. “What were we, 3-for-10 or something like that? You can’t win like that, especially not against these guys. You’ve got to get them off the field and make it easier on your defense.”
Sanchez said New York’s offense entered with a “great game plan.” If that was the case, I’d hate to see coordinator Brian Schottenheimer at his worst. The Jets were down 10-0 before getting a first down.
On his way to the locker room after the game, Sanchez ripped off his helmet and uttered a profanity. Sanchez then used the words “frustrated” or “frustrating” four times during his postgame news conference to describe Sunday’s loss.
The same applies for his 2011 performance.
The Jets so strongly believed Sanchez could carry the offense that a “ground-and-pound” franchise went pass-heavy in three of its first four games. Consecutive losses against Oakland and Baltimore — where Sanchez was particularly horrendous — prompted a return to New York’s run-first roots against New England.
That didn’t work well enough either. New York’s longest carry went for 9 yards. The only explosive play came on special teams. An 88-yard Joe McKnight kickoff return set up a touchdown that pulled the Jets within 17-14 early in the third quarter. They never came closer.
Not only is New York struggling to forge an offensive identity, there may be internal strife as well. The New York Daily News reported the team’s top three wide receivers (Santonio Holmes, Plaxico Burress and Derrick Mason) met separately with Ryan in recent weeks to complain about the offense.
Each party involved vehemently denied the report. But with how this season is unfolding, the wideouts have every right to kvetch.
The Jets (2-3) are on their first three-game losing streak since Ryan’s inaugural season in 2009. All the prior talk about trying to earn home-field advantage in the playoffs has been replaced by the realization that just reaching the postseason will require some major improvements.
To his credit, Sanchez wants to shoulder that responsibility.
“We’re going to see what a lot of guys are made of on this team,” he said. “It’s my job to get guys ready to play next week against Miami. It starts at the quarterback spot.”
So do big plays. The Jets have reached the AFC Championship Game under Sanchez for two straight seasons, even dispatching the Patriots in the process in January. New York couldn’t take the final step into the Super Bowl largely because there wasn’t enough offensive firepower or key plays being made in the passing game.
The 24-year-old Sanchez was given a mulligan because of his age and NFL experience. Those days are gone. Ditto for the “Sanchize” nickname that he never truly earned.
Writing off the Jets now would be a mistake. New York has played its best late in the year under Ryan. The Jets also have a chance to get back on track with upcoming home games against Miami (0-4) and San Diego (4-1) followed by a Week 8 bye.
“We’ve got a long way to go,” Ryan said. “Nobody said it would be easy. . . . The team that plays best at the end of the year is generally the one that walks away with a championship.”
But in today’s NFL, that team also has a difference-maker at quarterback. Sanchez needs to become that guy for these Jets to soar.