Print and Go Back ESPN.com: BlogsColumns [Print without images]

Saturday, August 17, 2013
Updated: August 18, 5:57 PM ET
Sanchez's struggles are Geno's gain

By Rich Cimini
ESPNNewYork.com

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Rookie Geno Smith didn't step foot on the field Saturday night at MetLife Stadium, but he took a step toward the New York Jets' quarterback job. He can thank Mark Sanchez.

Sanchez blew an opportunity to put a stranglehold on the job, making two unforgivable and costly errors in a 37-13 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars. He was forced to stew in his own mediocrity for three quarters, a surprisingly long outing for the second preseason game.

Punishment from Rex Ryan?

Mark Sanchez
Mark Sanchez played three quarters of the preseason game on Saturday.
The coach wouldn't say why he let Sanchez play so long, the last quarter behind the second-team offensive line, but Ryan made it clear how he feels about the quarterback situation. Asked if the competition will continue into next week, he replied without hesitation.

"Yes, absolutely," Ryan said. "We'll see how it goes. I'm not … we're not willing to name a starting quarterback right now."

He caught himself, remembering it's not an "I" decision anymore, not with general manager John Idzik around.

"Will we name one before the Giants game?" Ryan continued. "I don't know, but right now, we're not comfortable making that decision."

If Smith's ankle is healthy -- and it should be after four days of rest -- there's a chance he will start next Saturday night against the New York Giants. If the Jets are willing to give Smith prime reps in the most important preseason game, it means they're dead serious about giving him the job.

If he plays well, of course.

This competition has turned out all wrong for the Jets. After two games, it has been the same old Sanchez, making huge mistakes at the worst times. There are times when he looks comfortable in Marty Mornhinweg's West Coast offense, and there are times when he plays like a rookie. He's giving points to the opposition (see last week's interception for a touchdown) and he's taking points away from the Jets.

On Saturday night, Sanchez -- on a third down from the 3 -- was intercepted in the end zone trying to squeeze a pass into a small window to Kellen Winslow. Later, on the final play of the first half, Sanchez suffered a brain cramp with six seconds left, costing his team a field goal try by holding the ball too long and throwing an incompletion as time expired.

Ryan took the bullet, saying the play call was risky. It's hard to say why he wanted to give cover to Sanchez; he should've told the truth and used his favorite word for poor execution -- brutal. It was an inexcusable mistake for a four-year veteran.

"That shouldn't happen," Sanchez said. "I've got to get rid of that ball sooner. I know better than that."

The Jets can't hand the job to Sanchez, not this week, not after Saturday night. What kind of message would that send to the rest of the team? They need to take a look at Smith. It's not the ideal situation because you don't want to mess around in the third preseason game -- it could stunt the overall progress of the offense -- but what choice do they have?

"I feel like with Geno not playing, [the competition] was going to go on until he got another shot," said Sanchez, who completed 13 of 23 passes for 169 yards.

Maybe he's right, but Sanchez could've made a stronger case for himself if he had played a clean game. Oh, it looked pretty in the beginning, three straight completions on a 59-yard touchdown drive that ended with a 23-yard scoring throw to Jeff Cumberland.

Sanchez drove them again on the second possession, settling for a field goal after a drop by Stephen Hill on a ball that could've been thrown better. On the third drive, he marched them again, even receiving cheers from the crowd when he intentionally dirted a screen pass to Winslow that wasn't going to work.

The fans remembered last week's ill-fated screen pass, which went the other way for a Detroit touchdown. Baby steps, right? Hardly. One play later, Sanchez turned the cheers to boos with his red zone interception.

Sanchez said he should've waited for Hill to get open on the outside. He also said he should've put it out in front of Winslow a bit more.

"We'll clean that up," Sanchez said, delivering his usual lament after a bad turnover. Curiously, Ryan let him off the hook, saying, "It looked like we were a little off. It just never looked clean to me."

It's never clean with the Jets. They mishandled Smith's injury, making him practice four consecutive days on a tender ankle. Mind you, this is the same team that let Tim Tebow play with a broken rib. In the big picture, a couple of days off wouldn't have been a big deal. In the end, they messed up The Quarterback Plan.

They had reasons for pushing Smith -- they wanted him to rep new plays in practice and display toughness to his teammates -- but the risk outweighed the reward. Their quest for maintaining a fair and open competition blinded them to the reality of the situation.

Only the Jets could turn a minor ankle sprain into a significant injury, replete with conspiracy theories. Now they wait.

"I've got another week of practice coming up," Smith said. "I'm going to go out there with the right mentality and try to win the job."