Did somebody say something about a quarterback controversy? If so, they weren’t watching the game that played out at MetLife Stadium Sunday afternoon.
Dueling New York signal callers Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow started the Jets’ highly anticipated season opener against Buffalo on the field together, with Sanchez under center and Tebow lined up in the slot. But that would be the closest Tebow ever got to stealing the spotlight from Sanchez in New York’s 48-28 win over the Bills.
In fact, with the weight of an anxious Jets fan base and their desire to see Tebow on his shoulders, Sanchez had one of his more productive games as a pro, throwing for 266 yards and three touchdowns in the win. And in doing so, the fourth-year man out of USC vanquished any notion that the Jets offense couldn’t score points — or that he was the reason for it.
“It looks like we were making up for lost time there,” Sanchez said after the game. “It was nice; it was a great feeling, a great start.”
Everything that was wrong with the Jets’ quarterback in the preseason — a futile 0-4 campaign in which Sanchez failed to lead his first-string unit to a single touchdown — seemed to have been rectified by the time Sunday’s game kicked off.
With little assistance from the running game, which gained 118 yards on just 3.3 yards per carry, Sanchez effortlessly led the Jets down the field for most of the first three quarters, and by the 13:41 mark of the third quarter, New York had already scored more points (34) than it did in the entire preseason (31).
In the end, the Jets’ 48 total points set a franchise record for opening week and were the most for New York since a 56-35 win over Arizona in September 2008 — when then-quarterback Brett Favre threw for 289 yards and six touchdowns. Their last 48-point game before that came in 1998.
“I had a pretty good feeling that we were going to play well, and I told the guys the night before the game that I had that kind of confidence,” Jets coach Rex Ryan said. “I may not always be right, but they know I don’t tell them something I don’t believe, and I thought we were going to have a big game.”
Much of Sanchez’s success on Sunday could be credited to his offensive line, which gave him all the time he needed to operate in the backfield. Buffalo’s revamped and vaunted defensive line of Mario Williams, Kyle Williams, Marcell Dareus and Mark Anderson failed to apply much pressure at all to Sanchez — a welcome change for Sanchez after being sacked six times on 15 preseason drives.
New York’s only true offensive slip-up Sunday came on the opening drive, when a scrambling Sanchez tossed an ill-conceived backhand flip in the direction of tight end Jeff Cumberland — a move Sanchez later aptly described as “stupid” — only to have the ball bounce off Cumberland’s hand and into the arms of Bills linebacker Bryan Scott.
“I was thinking we should bench him,” Ryan joked when asked about his response to the interception. “Clearly I wish he could have that one back, because he had a heck of a day today.”
Sanchez quickly shook the mishap off, however, and on the next possession, he led New York on an eight-play, 61-yard drive that culminated in a 12-yard touchdown pass to Jeremy Kerley. After a Ryan Fitzpatrick interception on the following Buffalo possession, Sanchez led the Jets to another touchdown, this time connecting with rookie Stephen Hill on a 33-yard touchdown pass on the first play of the second quarter.
Interestingly, each of the Jets’ first two touchdowns came one play after a wildcat running play for Tebow, and that was about as involved in the New York offense as the beloved southpaw would get. The former Bronco acquired in a surprising March trade was mostly a non-factor in his regular season Jets debut.
Tebow carried the ball five times for 11 yards with a long of just four, and he didn’t attempt a single pass on the afternoon. At one point in the second quarter, the Jets faithful actually booed Tebow — an act normally reserved for Sanchez — when the Bills stuffed one of his rushing attempts at the line inside the Buffalo red zone.
“They did a nice job against the wildcat, but it’s something that you have to prepare for,” Ryan said. “And whether it’s one snap or 20 or 50, we have that flexibility in our system where we could use it. Sometimes it’s about that preparation. As much time as that team spent on the wildcat, maybe it took away from some other preparation.”
In addition to his rushing attempts, Tebow also made a handful of read-option handoffs and saw time on special teams, where he made his only real contribution to the win: an onside kick recovery in the fourth quarter — his first, he said, since he was a freshman at the University of Florida.
As for Sanchez, while he was good, he certainly wasn’t perfect and will hopefully improve as the season moves on. He had a couple instances of bad timing between himself and his receivers — namely Santonio Holmes, who had four catches on eight targets.
Additionally, some will be quick to point out that Sanchez and the offense weren’t responsible for all 48 points on Sunday. Kerley returned a punt 68 yards for a score in the second quarter, and Antonio Cromartie returned an interception 40 yards for a touchdown in the third.
But for this team, even 34 points is pretty good, and with his performance in Week 1, Sanchez put any semblance of quarterback unrest on the backburner — at least until next week’s game against Pittsburgh — tabling the controversy in favor of a more cohesive two-man quarterback unit.
“We’re great friends and we’re supporting one another, and I don’t think that he has a bigger fan — other than his mom and dad, maybe — than me, and I feel like he feels the same thing about me,” Tebow said. “He’s supportive of me, and we’re cheering each other on, and we just want to continue to win football games.”