- Rich Cimini, ESPN Staff Writer
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What it means: The New York Jets played a sloppy game and could’ve easily lost, but they showed fourth-quarter mettle (and received a gift from the officials) to pull out a victory. It was their fifth straight win, tying their longest winning streak of the decade. They have the best record in the AFC at 5-1. It came down to one play – a 46-yard pass interference penalty on Renaldo Hill. It was a fourth-down heave by Mark Sanchez, and it probably would’ve been incomplete, but Hill snagged Santonio Holmes’ facemask.
Instant analysis: After a sensational start to his second season, Sanchez crashed early and rallied late. His first two passes were would-be interceptions that were dropped, an ominous sign. He finished with two interceptions, leading to three Denver points. It was his first multiple-interception game since Dec. 20, 2009, when he threw three against the Atlanta Falcons -– a span of 10 straight games without two or more picks. Curiously, Sanchez looked tentative from the outset. Down 17-10 at the start of the fourth quarter, he rallied the Jets to 14 points on two touchdown runs by LaDainian Tomlinson. It was the first fourth-quarterback comeback win of Sanchez’ career.
For the second straight week, cornerback Darrelle Revis looked human. Clearly, he wasn’t close to 100 percent because of his pulled hamstring. Revis probably shouldn’t have played, but Ryan made the decision two hours before the game to activate him. Revis started -– so much for that talk about a part-time role -– and he was in man-to-man coverage on Jabar Gaffney most of the game. Revis surrendered four completions for 66 yards, including a 17-yard touchdown by rookie Demaryius Thomas. The Jets should have provided help over the top, or played more zone than usual, but Ryan is stubborn that way. He won’t adjust.
Ryan goofed by not challenging Thomas’ 17-yard touchdown reception. He juggled the ball ever-so-slightly, and it appeared that he didn’t get his second foot down before regaining possession. Ryan probably was gunshy because he had used a challenge (unsuccessfully) moments earlier on a pass to Brandon Lloyd.
Turnovers (or lack thereof) helped the Jets to a 4-1 record. On Sunday, turnovers hurt them. After committing only one turnover in the first five games, they imploded -– two interceptions by Sanchez and a killer fumble by receiver Santonio Holmes, who handled the ball carelessly at the end of a 16-yard run on an end-around. They also fell asleep and failed to recover an onsides kick. It was an uncharacteristic performance by a team that usually doesn’t kill itself with blunders.
The Jets were so preoccupied by the Broncos’ passing game that they underplayed the run. Wisely, the Broncos capitalized, rushing 37 times for 145 yards. With four minutes left in the game, linebacker David Harris missed badly on quarterback Kyle Orton, who ran for 13 yards on a third-and-11. That set up the Broncos’ go-ahead FG with 3:55 remaining.
It was Brad Smith vs. Tim Tebow in a battle of dueling Wildcats. The former college quarterbacks got plenty of work behind center. In fact, Tebow scored his first NFL touchdown, scoring on a 5-yard run on a sweep to the right. The Jets seemed ill-prepared for the Wildcat, which shouldn’t have been the case. They’ve seen plenty of Wildcat, having faced the Miami Dolphins. Tebow finished with 6 rushes for 23 yards, Smith 3 for 18. Broncos coach Josh McDaniels used the Wildcat to jump-start his dormant running game.
What’s next: Rest. The Jets have a bye week. For the players, that means a one-week vacation -– literally. Rex Ryan, backing up his player’s-coach reputation, has given the players off until next Monday. It’s rare for an NFL coach to do that, but as we know, Ryan isn’t like other coaches.