- Johnette Howard, ESPN.com columnist
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Someday Eli Manning and Mark Sanchez may yet settle the ongoing debate of who's the best quarterback in New York. But it was never going to be decided when the New York Giants and Jets finally met Monday night in their hurricane-delayed preseason game.
What became clear very quickly was that neither quarterback would advance the conversation much, either.
By the second quarter, you could almost hear Denny Green launching into that old rant of his that still turns up on beer commercials: "They are who we thought they were!"
While Sanchez was dinking and dunking his way through two-plus quarters and failing to complete even one pass to Plaxico Burress in the receiver's first game against his former team -- Sanchez blamed himself for being scattershot, and he was right -- Manning was ruining his marginally better night by throwing two galling interceptions.
And for a change there was no need to go back over the videotape, like some folks have done with Manning's 2010 season to decide how many of his career-high 25 interceptions were his fault and how many the Giants' receivers tipped or should've caught.
The most generous estimates are that Manning shouldn't be blamed for anywhere from seven to nine of his picks a year ago. But during Monday's 17-3 Giants loss, both of Manning's interceptions were on him. And even if this was just a preseason game, it mattered all right. Giants coach Tom Coughlin noted that Manning's first turnover came on a blitz and that his tight end and slot receiver could've adjusted better. But Coughlin was also blunt when asked what Manning should've done.
"Throw the ball away," Coughlin said. "The two turnovers hurt us."
Manning, unlike Sanchez, is working with familiar receivers. Other than getting back to the playoffs for the first time since 2008, reducing interceptions is the single most important thing Manning is trying to improve upon in 2011. He's said so ad nauseam himself.
Yet there was Manning in the first quarter, killing a nice Giants drive by overthrowing Victor Cruz on a pass over the middle that Jets safety Jim Leonhard caught at the Jets' 21. In the second quarter, Manning was picked off by Jets linebacker David Harris as he tried to hit Ahmad Bradshaw down the left sideline.
"I just put a little too much mustard on it," Manning said of the errant throw to Cruz. "The next one, they had a good blitz on again. ... Just have to throw it away, make a better decision right there."
Manning (15-for-30 passing for 200 yards) at least offset the turnovers a bit with some nice downfield throws. Sanchez's inability to hit more than a few swing passes and dump-offs in the flat -- before he finally found Santonio Holmes for a 17-yard touchdown pass with 1:53 left in the first half -- should bother the Jets, even if Sanchez does have a well-established pattern of playing his best when the lights go up for real.
He finished 8-for-16 for just 64 yards, and yet afterward pronounced the Jets' offense ready to roll though they were badly outgained in the first half (224 to 73) and punted five of the seven series he played. Another series ended when Sanchez fumbled the snap from center. The only touchdown drive he did lead was set up by Antonio Cromartie's 70-yard kickoff return to the Giants' 35.
"I'm proud of the way we played," Sanchez insisted. "I think the sky's the limit for this group."
Five or six times he mentioned the offense will improve when the Jets finally game plan for an opponent. We'll see.
This third preseason game was the last dress rehearsal for the starters on both teams. And yet, until a couple of brief second-half scuffles broke out, the head coaches seemed to be most intent on making a statement. After the Jets' Rex Ryan decided to go for a first down on fourth-and-1 though the Jets were pinned back on their own 28, Coughlin -- intense as ever -- tossed his red flag to challenge the spot of the ball after the Giants thought they had stuffed Shonn Greene. Some players on the Giants' bench had actually started celebrating and running onto the field to congratulate the defense before the refs signaled first down.
Coughlin lost the challenge, but you had to admire his refusal to surrender one measly yard without a fight or let Ryan's bravado go unchecked. (These teams do meet again on Dec. 24.) The Jets eked out that first down but punted four plays later. Sanchez continued to be so inept at moving the ball the rest of the half, Ryan was unhappy on his way to the locker room though the Jets had just scored a few minutes before he gave this quote at intermission:
"Obviously, I'd like to get a few more first downs. ... It is ridiculous, the difference in yardage," Ryan griped. "We have to play a lot better offensively. We have to move the ball better."
Ryan was as oddly laid back about the offense's struggles as Sanchez was by the end of the game. But maybe he didn't want to feed any talk about how out of sync Sanchez and his receivers often looked with 13 days still to go before the regular-season opener against Dallas. The truth was, the Jets only began to stretch out their lead in the second half with third-string quarterback Greg McElroy in the game.
Manning, who isn't likely to play Thursday in the Giants' preseason finale against New England, will probably finish the preseason without a touchdown pass. Not good.
Sanchez's challenge if the Jets are going to go to the Super Bowl this year is to quickly get on the same page as his new receivers, and be a game-changing force, not just a game-manager anymore. His grade Monday? Also not good.
The Jets won. Somebody had to.
But nobody came out of this game with any bragging rights.
For that, check back on Dec. 24.
Who's the best quarterback in New York? Um, could we have another option?