If Mark Sanchez was hoping to hush the din of antsy New York Jets fans pining for Tim Tebow to supplant him as the team’s starting quarterback, he did little to help his case in Saturday night’s preseason home opener against the New York Giants.
Fortunately for Sanchez, Tebow was equally disappointing in relief during his home debut at MetLife Stadium, and the ineptitude of the league’s most beloved backup sent even his staunchest supporters flooding for the exits early in the fourth quarter of the Jets’ 26-3 loss.
Through two preseason games, the Jets have yet to score a touchdown or secure a win. And as the on-field follies continue to pile up, it’s looking more and more like New York’s quarterback controversy is becoming a quarterback catastrophe.
Sanchez, who has started all but one Jets game since being drafted fifth overall in 2009, took the field with the first unit as usual on Saturday, and for the most part he was accurate, completing 9 of 11 passes and spreading the ball among six receivers.
But it was the weight of the few mistakes Sanchez did make — and the chances his group left on the field — that made his night so underwhelming. Sanchez led the offense on six drives in the first half, and five were for five plays or fewer.
The Jets failed to convert on a third-and-1 from their own 41 on the opening drive and had to punt, then New York went three-and-out on its second drive, which ended when Jason Pierre-Paul sacked Sanchez on third-and-3 from the Jets’ 7.
A five-play drive on the next Jets possession went nowhere, with only one play — a 12-yard pass to Patrick Turner — gaining positive yardage, and after an Eli Manning interception, the Jets squandered their good field position when John Conner got stuffed at the line on fourth-and-1 from the Giants’ 36.
“That was brutal, absolutely bad,” Jets coach Rex Ryan said of the pair of snuffed short-yardage attempts. “You’re trying to give it to the big fullback through there and they met us in the backfield both times. I might have been more disappointed in those things than I was in anything else.”
Sanchez finally got the ball moving on his fifth drive, navigating the Jets to the Giants’ 22. But a holding penalty backed up the Jets to the 30, and Jayron Hosley intercepted Sanchez’s third-down pass intended for Turner and returned it 77 yards for a touchdown and a 13-0 lead.
“That just goes to show you how fragile it is,” Sanchez said of the pick. “You miss by a little bit and you don’t get the ball back. That’s one you’d like to have back, and I know I can complete that pass.”
The Jets managed just 83 yards and four first downs in the half, setting the bar low for Tebow when he entered to the loudest cheers of the night to start the second half. But Tebow was not particularly impressive and was largely held in check by the Giants’ second- and third-stringers.
He overthrew backs in the flat, threw wobbly ducks over the middle and underthrew one receiver standing all by his lonesome in the corner of the end zone. And when it was all said and done, Tebow had wasted a prime opportunity to make a case for himself as the starter, completing just 5 of 14 passes for 69 yards.
At first, it appeared Tebow would be the spark the struggling Jets needed, and by the 10th play of the opening drive of the second half — which made it the longest Jets drive to that point — the team had amassed more first downs than it did in the entire first half.
But on second-and-20 from the Giants’ 29, Tebow’s night began to fall apart when he botched a tailor-made touchdown with a poor throw, his rollout pass falling 2 yards short of rookie wide receiver Stephen Hill, who didn’t have a Giants defender within 10 yards of him in the end zone.
“I tried to throw it to the pylon and low, but I didn’t want to throw it that low,” Tebow said. “Looking back at the pictures, I know I had more room than I thought I did, so I should have just put it on him more.”
Tebow completed just two more passes, and the Jets were held to minus-13 yards the rest of the night. The Jets finished with 148 net yards, down from 173 in their preseason opener against Cincinnati.
The Jets’ struggles through two games are by no means all on Sanchez and Tebow, though. They’re both working with a below-average receiving corps that was without three of its top four targets, with Santonio Holmes, Jeremy Kerley and Chaz Schilens all out of action.
They also didn’t get any help from their offensive line on Saturday, namely left tackle Wayne Hunter, who couldn’t seem to block anyone and didn’t stand a chance against Pierre-Paul, who seemed to get to Sanchez at will. All told, the Giants had seven sacks.
“You’ve got to be able to protect the quarterback,” Ryan said. “It’s hard to throw when you’re flat on your back.”
But those struggles on the O-line are just one symptom of what has been a crippling affliction on offense.
Through two games — and granted, they’re just exhibitions — the Jets look like a team with two weak signal-callers, no good receivers, a line that doesn’t feel particularly inclined to stand in the defense’s way, and a running back in Shonn Greene who, while talented, isn’t equipped to carry the load by himself.
The Jets are bad no matter who is in under center right now, but until Ryan shores up the quarterback position and finds one he can rely on to make plays, he can’t reasonably expect anything else to fall into place.
Fortunately, they’ve got two more preseason games to work out those kinks before the games start to matter.
“It’s not time to hit the panic button,” Sanchez said. “Are we pleased with what we put out there on film tonight? No. Is it our best? Absolutely not. Do I think we can play better than that? Of course. We’ve got to get better; it starts with studying this week, and I know we can do that.”
Said Ryan: “It’s not like there’s no faith in this team because we’re 0-2 in the preseason. The fact of the matter is you have to get better, we will get better and that’s it. Our thing is just pride and hard work and get out there and pull that rope the same direction, and we will.”