Wednesday, October 14, 2009
Sanchez bounces back with 'best game' with Jets
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Mark Sanchez spent much of last week cramming with Braylon Edwards, trying to learn his new wide receiver's tendencies.
Three days of practice and several off-field film sessions later, they showed some immediate chemistry and reason to think Sanchez-to-Edwards might be a common connection for the New York Jets.
"Three days is tough," Sanchez said Wednesday, "but at the same time, he's so dang good, you just want to give him and opportunity whenever you can. That's what we did."
Edwards, acquired in a trade from Cleveland last Wednesday, caught five passes from Sanchez for 65 yards and a touchdown in New York's 31-27 loss at Miami on Monday night. He also nearly had two other TDs on plays that led to scores.
"The biggest thing for me is that Mark is just loose," Edwards said. "It's so hard to find quarterbacks that are loose in this league and the few that are are great quarterbacks. They understand the game, they're loose and they play confident.
"Him playing loose and confident allows me to go out there and do what I do."
A lot of their success Monday night had to do with Sanchez being able to overcome a miserable performance at New Orleans and bounce back with a turnover-free outing.
"This was definitely the best game I've had, but still nowhere near where I want to be," Sanchez said. "I always feel like I've got miles and miles of room to improve, but it's getting a lot better."
Sanchez struggled mightily against the Saints with four turnovers, including three interceptions. There was some concern about how a quarterback with little college experience and even less in the NFL would bounce back.
Turns out, it wasn't anything coach Rex Ryan needed to worry about. Sanchez was 12 of 24 for 172 yards and a touchdown. They weren't gaudy numbers, but he led the Jets on two fourth-quarter scoring drives that each gave New York a lead.
"Well, it was definitely not surprising," Ryan said. "That's who we all thought Mark was. That's why we gave up a king's ransom or whatever we gave up for him. He's got that. That's who he is."
Sanchez realized the pressure was on after his debacle in New Orleans and the doubts that maybe he wasn't ready to be a starting NFL quarterback. His 74.1 quarterback rating still ranks in the lower third of the league.
"You just have to be mentally tough," he said. "For me, it's even more important being the quarterback. You have to show it and have the positive attitude and I think that's really what showed on Monday night."
Sanchez thought the Jets' scoring drive before halftime was the team's best of the season. It was only six plays, but showed some cool-headedness by the rookie.
He completed a 13-yard pass to Leon Washington, an 8-yarder to David Clowney, a 6-yarder to Clowney and then stopped the clock with a spike. When he couldn't find anyone open on the next play, Sanchez took off for the sideline and gained 4 more yards. Jay Feely capped it with a 43-yard field goal with 4 seconds left in the half.
"He's exceeded my expectations," Edwards said, "especially for him to be a young guy and to be able to have the huddle presence he does, to be able to be as relaxed as he is and to be able to throw the ball with such a tight spiral and such finesse as he does.
"Like I said last week, and I continue to stand by it, he's going to be something very special in this league."
On New York's opening drive, Sanchez found Edwards in the back of the end zone for a 3-yard touchdown -- the first of what the two hope are many connections.
"I was a hair late on that," Sanchez said. "He has strong hands for him to be able to pull that thing in."
The two helped give the Jets a 20-17 lead early in the fourth quarter when Sanchez put up a long pass along the left sideline that Edwards leaped to grab and spun around to stay in bounds before going down at the 1. Thomas Jones ran it in on the next play.
"That's just a phenomenal play," Sanchez said. "I've never seen a catch like that in my life."
Edwards nearly made another terrific catch on a long pass from Sanchez, but drew a pass interference call that put the ball on the 3. Jones scored on the next play to put New York ahead 27-24 with 5:12 left, but the defense couldn't hold it.
"Some of the things were great when we did have some sustaining drives," Sanchez said, "but still, we need to do better on third down."
The Jets were efficient on third downs in the first two games, going 13 of 29, but were 4 of 11 against Miami and 3 of 12 at New Orleans -- both losses.
"We need to get back to our winning ways," Sanchez said. "We started the season off great and just hit a little lull here. We'll be just fine in no time."