Commentary

Brace yourself for Sanchez in Week 1

Ankle injury, lackluster preseason debut could impede Geno's opportunity to start

Updated: August 10, 2013, 2:05 AM ET
By Rich Cimini | ESPNNewYork.com

DETROIT -- For Mark Sanchez, the new season began the way the last one ended, with him throwing a pass to the wrong-colored jersey and the wrong-colored jersey running it back for a touchdown.

It happened last Dec. 30 in Buffalo, and it happened again Friday night in the New York Jets' first preseason game. Can't blame this one on Tim Tebow.

It never stops, does it? Sanchez is a turnover machine. New season, new offense, same results. It has to be maddening for a frustrated fan base, but here's the sobering reality:

The $8.25 million man remains your best bet at quarterback. For now, anyway, especially with the uncertainty surrounding Geno Smith's ankle injury.

[+] EnlargeMark Sanchez
AP Photo/Paul SancyaMark Sanchez gave seven points to the Lions but recovered to lead the Jets to seven.

Smith turned his right ankle in the third quarter of the Jets' 26-17 loss to the Detroit Lions, and Sanchez turned your stomach on his third pass. He tried to throw a screen to rookie Tommy Bohanon, and another rookie, defensive end Ziggy Ansah, made like Randy Starks (see: Jan. 1, 2012 at Miami). Ansah plucked the balloon out of the air and returned it 14 yards for the score.

"The rookie made an awesome play," Sanchez said. "He jumped out of the gym."

Sanchez wasn't victimized by LeBron James in shoulder pads; he was victimized by himself. It was a poor decision and a poor throw, straight out of 2012. He almost did it again on the second drive, but Kellen Winslow -- the intended receiver -- probably saved another pick-six by knocking the ball away from safety Glover Quin.

Afterward, Rex Ryan commended Winslow on his tackling ability, a sarcastic comment from a coach who has to be fed up with Sanchez's turnovers.

Funny thing about Sanchez, though: He has nine lives. He rallied the Jets to an 80-yard touchdown drive in his final series, similar to the way he salvaged a poor scrimmage last week with a long scoring pass on the final play.

Incredibly, Sanchez (10-for-13, 125 yards) ended the night in a better position than when he began. He showed some resilience, and Smith, before limping off, was utterly ordinary in a 6-for-7, 47-yard outing that generated only two first downs.

Unless Smith lights it up next week against the Jacksonville Jaguars, the opening-day starter will be Sanchez. You have to wonder if Smith will even play next week. The injury doesn't appear serious, but it'll be hard to play if he misses practice time. Lost practice time would doom the rookie's chances of winning the job.

Smith is coming off a mediocre week of practice, and he needed a strong performance in the game to make his statement. That didn't happen, even though he said, "I think I played exceptionally well." He didn't look ready to lead an NFL offense.

Ryan might not have much of a choice. He might have to start Sanchez and hope for the best. The coach has to be uncomfortable with that thought because he knows he can't survive another 26-turnover season from his quarterback.

"Clearly, on those screens, you have to find a way either to change your arm angle or something," Ryan said. "We can't continue to throw picks there. There's no doubt about that."

Sanchez has a maddening tendency to turn safe passes into disaster. He mentioned that Bohanon got knocked off his route. Fine, but he should've thrown it away. This is Sanchez's fifth season; he should know better. At least he didn't fold, not even after the second near-pick.

On his third series, Sanchez ran a couple of plays out of no-huddle, picked up the tempo, hit Winslow for 24 yards, found a wide-open Jeremy Kerley for 24 and finished with a 26-yard touchdown to Jeff Cumberland.

"Other than one crappy play, it wasn't too bad," Sanchez said.

Based on one game and two weeks of camp, Sanchez still gives the Jets their best chance to win. Smith will take over at some point. It's inevitable. The team isn't good enough to give away touchdowns; we're not talking about a New England Patriots offense here.

Maybe Ryan has the right idea. Coaching the defense on the sideline, his back was turned to the field when Sanchez threw the interception. Afterward, he couldn't give a full description of the play. Maybe he was trying to send a message to Jets fans:

Don't watch the offense.

Rich Cimini

ESPN New York Jets reporter

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