Commentary

Sanchez, Jets unready for prime time

The QB's play, and all the gimmicks, indicate this team can't compete with the elite

Updated: October 9, 2012, 3:48 AM ET
By Johnette Howard | ESPNNewYork.com

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The Jets wouldn't confess that all the gimmicks and gadget plays and gambles they used, to save themselves from the Monday night massacre everyone was predicting against the unbeaten Texans, were an admission that embattled quarterback Mark Sanchez and their feeble offense need this kind of extravagant propping up.

[+] EnlargeMark Sanchez
Kirby Lee/US PresswireMark Sanchez had his opportunities Monday night, but he ended up disappointed.

And in the end, despite throwing everything they could think of against the wall, the result was the same: Sanchez couldn't deliver the handful of game-changing plays that might've made the difference in the Jets' 23-17 loss.

When there was a touchdown drive to finish off or an open receiver to hit, when the game was encouragingly close early on or surprisingly still sitting there for the Jets' taking deep into the fourth quarter, the Jets got something less from Sanchez instead.

Sanchez wasn't as gawd-awful as he's been in other weeks. But it wasn't the sort of performance that will end the quarterback controversy swirling around him anytime soon. All this game did was buy Sanchez a little time, tourniquet the ugly booing he faced from his very first incompletion, and betray that the coaching staff's takeaway from the Jets' 34-0 trouncing by the 49ers a week earlier was the same as most outsiders' take: The Jets just aren't good enough to line up toe-to-toe and beat the NFL's best.

The Jets' game plan for the Texans screamed that they know that. And, very quickly, the Texans recognized that the Jets felt that way, too.

"What all of it said to me is the Jets think we have a pretty good defense," Texans cornerback Brice McCain said -- choosing his words carefully, as a little smile played across his face.

The other way you could look at it was, the Jets think they have a bad offense of their own.

Why else would the Jets go for it on 4th-and-1 twice in their own territory in the first half? Why else follow up a momentum-changing 100-yard touchown return by Joe McKnight in the third quarter, which electrified the MetLife Stadium home crowd, with an onside kick that backfired when the ball slithered through Chaz Schilens' hands, setting the Texans up for a field goal that extended their lead back to nine points?

The answer is an obvious one: The Jets don't do all that if they believe they can hang with the Texans just by running a conventional offense, with Sanchez leading the way, trying to match Matt Schaub play for play and point for point.

So the Jets didn't even try. They didn't just ask Sanchez to win them this game. The coaching staff went back to the woodshed, as Rex Ryan promised they would in his seething postgame address after the 49ers loss, and they finally let Tim Tebow actually rear back and try his first long pass of the season -- only to see his well-thrown ball clank off the receiver's hands. They had cornerback Antonio Cromartie lining up at wide receiver, and breaking loose down the right sideline for a deep pass that Sanchez threw a little too much to the outside, leading him out of bounds rather than straight down the field for a touchdown.

Afterward, Sanchez wasn't much interested in getting into the "woulda coulda shouldas" about plays like that, or his 14-for-31 passing night that ended with 230 yards, three sacks, four tipped passes and two interceptions.

He only shrugged when asked if he could've thrown Cromartie a better ball, and then said, "I guess ... maybe just a hair." How about his second-quarter interception, which came off a tipped ball by Texans defensive end J.J. Watt, killing what had been the Jets' best drive of the game to that point? "An unfortunate turn of events," Sanchez said.

None of the Jets wanted to say this was a loss they can build on, or talk about how determined their effort was. But veteran guard Brandon Moore did admit the Jets knew they had to dig in and make some kind of statement against the Texans, after the 49ers embarrassed them the week before. Moore acknowledged that the Jets knew, even though this was only Week 5, outsiders would be watching them closely for signs they were tempted to tank this game or the entire season after losing their two best players, Darrelle Revis and Santonio Holmes, in back-to-back games.

"Sure, I mean, you hear the chatter outside, everyone not giving us a shot, everyone wondering how badly we'd get beat in this game," Moore said. "And I know it's a cliché, but guys did fight to the end. Guys played like we still believe in here. We just wanted to go out and prove we're a legitimate team with prideful guys. You know? It just didn't work out today with a win."

It wasn't the sort of night that will get Sanchez's critics off his back, either.

The Jets still have a quarterback controversy, all right. No gimmick in the Jets' playbook Monday night could save him, or the team, from another week of that.

Johnette Howard is an award-winning writer and author who previously worked for Sports Illustrated, The Washington Post, and Newsday. She contributes general sports columns to ESPN.com and ESPNNewYork.com.

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