Sunday, December 4, 2011
Jets have a little Tim Tebow in them
By Rich Cimini ESPNNewYork.com
LANDOVER, MD. -- Two weeks ago, the New York Jets got beat by Tim Tebow. Now they're playing like him -- and that's OK. There's no reason to apologize, not in a business defined by results.
Tebow has captivated the sport with his polarizing style, a player with obvious flaws but knows when it's winning time. You can say the same thing about the Jets, who can overcome 55 minutes of ugly with five minutes of beautiful.
They did it again Sunday, leaping back into the playoff race with a 34-19 victory over the Washington Redskins at FedEx Field. Right up until the game-changing moment -- Mark Sanchez's 30-yard, go-ahead touchdown pass to Santonio Holmes with 4:49 remaining -- the Jets appeared utterly confused.
Score a touchdown? Hell, they had trouble running a play, incurring a penalty for too many men in the huddle and burning a timeout because a play came in late. Out of that mess emerged Sanchez-to-Holmes, perfectly executed and clutch -- just like last week's last-minute game winner against the Buffalo Bills.
In a heartbeat, they went from "Bad News Bears" to '85 Bears.
These are your 2011 Jets, mentally taxing but dramatic.
"It wasn't pretty in the first half, but I'd rather be on a team that can finish and put a team to bed in the fourth quarter," guard Brandon Moore said in the cramped visitor's locker room.
The Jets (7-5) can do that because they have a quarterback who, despite the obvious differences, is similar to Tebow in that he has an innate ability to play his best when it matters most.
For 55 minutes, Sanchez (19-for-32, 165 yards) did nothing spectacular. What he did best was what he didn't do -- no turnovers and no sacks. At this point in his career, he should be more than that, but, hey, he is what he is, and he managed to step out of ordinary at precisely the right moment, pump-faking cornerback Josh Wilson and hitting Holmes with a slant-and-go.
It was the ninth fourth-quarter comeback win in Sanchez's career, a ton for a quarterback with only 49 career starts.
"It's his competitiveness," Jets coach Rex Ryan said. "Nobody wants to acknowledge it. We all look at the other parts. Guys struggle. Every quarterback, with the exception of Peyton [Manning] and [Tom] Brady, you have your moments.
Mark Sanchez has a knack for getting the Jets pointed in the right direction ... eventually.
"But I'll take it when a guy can roll up his sleeves and say, 'We're going to get it done now.' Everybody believes in him. You know it's just a matter of time."
For a change, the Jets looked like a real offense at the outset, marching 17 plays, 74 yards to the first of three touchdown runs by Shonn Greene. After that, they went on hiatus for about 2½ quarters. In that span, they managed only five first downs. There were four three-and-outs and two drives, which began in Redskins' territory, which produced only three points.
There were a litany of mental mistakes and some curious play-calling. For this game, the Jets employed a game plan that was more complicated than usual. At Ryan's behest, they dusted off the old Wildcat package. They also integrated new personnel packages and an outside zone-blocking scheme for running plays.
That led to some confusion. Afterward, Sanchez was chafed by the mistakes.
"We're hurting ourselves with substitution penalties and getting calls in late," he said, with an edge to his voice. "We need to be sharper. We need to get to the line of scrimmage faster. We need a better sense of urgency and a better tempo. That's the responsibility of the quarterback, so I need to get better at that."
Those mistakes showed up at the worst possible time. Down by three points, ball at the Redskins' 43 (after a dumb short kickoff called by Washington coach Mike Shanahan), the Jets were flagged for an illegal substitution. Too many men in the huddle. One play later, they had to burn a timeout because the play clock was down to :01.
After the timeout, Sanchez made a terrific, under-pressure improv throw to Greene for 10 yards on third-and-4. In retrospect, that might have been the play of the game. One play later, he and Holmes got Wilson to bite on a double move.
The 50 Greatest Jets
Drawn from more than five decades of history, ESPN New York presents its 50 Greatest Jets. Top 50Rank 'Em
The Jets were throwing slants all day -- do they have another route? -- and so Wilson figured he'd get another. This time, Holmes ran the slant. Sanchez pumped. Wilson took the bait. Holmes went deep.
"Mark put the ball the ball right in a great place for me to catch it, and that's the ballgame," Holmes said.
The Jets tacked on a couple of touchdowns by Greene, making the final score lopsided, but this was a taut game for 55 minutes. They smothered Rex Grossman, who also did a pretty good job of smothering himself. The only way they were going to lose this game was a dumb mistake because the Redskins were hopeless and Tebow wasn't in the house.
Sanchez showed his resilience. This was a tough week for him, with some serious scrutiny from fans and media. Even the Redskins' resident loudmouth, DeAngelo Hall, jumped on the pile, saying Sanchez tends to get confused and telegraphs his passes.
Sanchez probably wishes he burned Hall on the Holmes touchdown, but he'd never say that. He downplayed the personal-satisfaction angle, insisting it was all about the team.
"What I'm learning how to do is not let the game spin out of control," he said.
Sanchez did just that moments before the Holmes touchdown. With the game in doubt, they found a way. No apology necessary. Winning means never having to say you're sorry.
And the Jets haved Tebow-ed their way back into the thick of the wild-card race.