Commentary

Wildcat falls flat as Sanchez soars

Starting QB's big day means hyped formation won't be divisive -- until it is

Updated: September 9, 2012, 9:26 PM ET
By Rich Cimini | ESPNNewYork.com

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Remember the scene in "The Wizard of Oz," when Dorothy and friends go behind the curtain and discover the great and almighty Oz is just a regular-looking old dude?

It was kind of that way Sunday at MetLife Stadium, where the football-watching world got its first glimpse of the New York Jets' great, almighty and top-secret Wildcat offense. It, too, looked rather ordinary. The Tim Tebow package produced only 22 yards on eight plays, with Tebow running five times for 11 yards.

In fact, the only boos on an otherwise glorious opening day came in the second quarter of the Jets' 48-28 victory, when Tebow was stuffed for no gain at the Buffalo Bills' 12-yard line. Which was more unexpected, Tebow getting booed or the Jets scoring 48 points? It was one of those days -- a little surreal.

[+] EnlargeTim Tebow
Jeff Zelevansky/Getty ImagesTim Tebow ran five times for 11 yards on Sunday.

Tebow said he didn't hear the boos. Right.

"Nobody is saying every play is going to be 50 yards," said guard Brandon Moore, a tad defensive about the Wildcat.

To a man, the Jets refused to call the Wildcat a flop, claiming it had a subtle impact on the game. Maybe it did -- we'll get to that in a bit -- but it also raised some questions, leading one to believe it will eventually blow up on the Jets.

If Mark Sanchez throws for 266 yards and three touchdowns every week, sure, the entire Tebow Plan will work magnificently and there will be no quarterback controversy. But what are the chances of Sanchez playing like Tom Brady every game?

There were a few curious, momentum-disrupting moments early in the game.

Sanchez hit Stephen Hill on a third-down conversion, his first completion of the season -- the first feel-good moment for the offense in, like, 10 months. But, on the next play, Sanchez was sent out to play wide receiver in the Wildcat, with Tebow taking a direct snap. Tebow handed off to Joe McKnight for a gain of only 3 yards.

On the next series, Sanchez connected with Jeremy Kerley on a big third-down play, down to the Bills' 27. Out went Sanchez, in came Tebow. He handed to Bilal Powell for 4 yards. Did that disrupt Sanchez's rhythm? Perhaps. On the next play, he missed a wide-open Santonio Holmes.

Later, in the second quarter, Sanchez drove the offense to the Bills' 12, with a chance to blow open a 21-7 game. Once again, he was replaced by Tebow, who ran a read-option play -- shades of his Denver Broncos days -- and got nothing. The crowd turned on Tebow as he trotted to the sideline.

"Some high expectations for Tim there," tight end Dustin Keller said. "If it's not a touchdown, he gets booed."

Sanchez returned on the next play, throwing an off-the-mark completion to Kerley, who was stopped a yard shy of the first down. It was an easy pitch-and-catch -- Kerley was uncovered -- but the ball placement caused Kerley to slow down. The Jets had to settle for a field goal.

Afterward, Sanchez claimed he's all in, embracing Tebow and his role.

"I bought in, just like everybody on the team," he said. "I knew Tim could come in and help us. That's just the tip of the iceberg. We've barely seen anything yet, so we've got plenty more in our grab bag of Wildcat."

Let's be fair here. Sanchez's first two touchdown passes came immediately after plays in which Tebow was the quarterback. Obviously, the one-play rest didn't ruin him on those plays, as he made pretty throws to Kerley (12 yards) and Hill (33).

It's possible the Bills let their guard down because they were so focused on the Tebow package. Maybe the amount of preparation time for the Wildcat negatively impacted other components of their defense, which is what the Jets will have you believe.

"[The Bills] did a nice job against the Wildcat, but it's something you have to prepare for," Jets coach Rex Ryan said. "As much time as that team spent on the Wildcat, maybe it took away from some other preparation."

It sure looked that way, as the Bills looked positively dreadful. Their $100 million man, Mario Williams, got outplayed by a $540,000 journeyman, Austin Howard. Bills coach Chan Gailey said they weren't surprised by anything, "I thought we contained that package pretty well."

But they struggled with everything else.

Tebow ended up playing 12 plays -- eight under center, one as an H-Back on the first play of the game, two as the personal protector on the punt team and one on the "hands" team on kickoff return. In fact, he recovered an onsides kick in the final minutes, probably his biggest contribution. He hadn't done that since his freshman year at Florida.

Predictably, Tebow used words like "fun" and "exciting" to describe his Jets debut. Breaking down his five carries, he ran once for 3 yards in the Wildcat (with him and Sanchez on the field) and four times for 10 yards when he was the only quarterback on the field.

Let's break it down further: Six of the eight Tebow plays came on first down, only two occurred in the red zone and none came in short-yardage. A fourth-and-1 from the Bills' 7 screamed out for Tebow, but Ryan sent on the field-goal unit.

Tebow refused to paint the day as a failure, insisting, "I thought we executed it pretty well. We would've liked to have hit one or two of those, but for the most part we were efficient on them."

Sanchez took the half-full approach, naturally: "Those Wildcat plays will be our explosion plays at some point."

If that happens, it will add stress to the quarterback situation, especially if Sanchez experiences a few hiccups. In Week 1, the Jets were so far superior to the Bills that it didn't become an issue. But how many perfect days can you expect?

Rich Cimini

ESPN New York Jets reporter

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