Commentary

Same ol' Sanchez, Jets during win

The circus moved to Jacksonville, but performed a similar act on Sunday

Updated: December 9, 2012, 11:44 PM ET
By Rich Cimini | ESPNNewYork.com

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Look at the positives: Mark Sanchez didn't crash into the rear end of an offensive lineman and he wasn't intercepted by any former teammates -- and, yes, there was one lurking in the Jacksonville Jaguars' secondary.

Under the big top of the New York Jets' three-quarterback circus, they call that progress.

Sanchez didn't do a whole lot more than Tim Tebow on Sunday at EverBank Field -- Tebow, in uniform, was a spectator -- but the embattled starter didn't lose his job and the Jets didn't lose to one of the worst teams in the NFL.

It took the full 60 minutes to record a 17-10 victory, but don't go thinking the Jets (6-7) -- still on the periphery of the wild-card chase -- are cured of their ills. Nothing changed. They still have a skittish quarterback leading a broken offense, executing plays called by a coaching staff that has no faith in him.

Get used to it. The Jets are married to Sanchez for another year, and the script won't change until they get better players around him. For now, it's about survival. For Rex Ryan. For general manager Mike Tannenbaum. For the team as a whole.

[+] EnlargeMark Sanchez
Sam Greenwood/Getty ImagesThe Jets' Mark Sanchez scrambles for yardage against the Jaguars.

"We don't even deserve the right to speak about the playoffs," said linebacker Bart Scott, making sense for a change. "All we've earned is the right to talk about the Tennessee Titans next week on a national stage."

Ironically, Sanchez -- he of the $8.25 million guarantee in 2013 -- has more job security than any of the big wigs. He supposedly came close to losing his job after last Sunday's benching, but Ryan's exhaustive, three-day deliberation was a farce. That became apparent about 90 minutes before kickoff.

Greg McElroy, whom we were led to believe was a strong consideration, wasn't good enough to make the varsity on Sunday. Ryan activated only two quarterbacks, and he preferred a banged-up Tebow over McElroy -- truly a head-scratcher. Now we know what he thinks about McElroy.

Ryan said he was prepared to play Tebow at quarterback in the event of an injury or ineffectiveness, insisting with a hint of sarcasm, "I wasn't going to put a backup tackle in." But let's be real: It would've taken an epic meltdown for Sanchez to get pulled.

The man has more job security than some Wall Street CEOs.

"You can't think, 'What if I don't play well?'" Sanchez said after passing for a grand total of 111 yards -- the fifth-lowest total of his career in a victory. "In the words of Nick Mangold, one of the greatest quarterbacks of our time: 'Just sling it. Go have fun, man.'"

Mangold is a center, of course, but he's a wise man. Sanchez said he heeded the advice and had a lot of fun, but he wasn't exactly slinging it.

In a performance straight out of his rookie season, Sanchez attempted only 19 passes, including only two in the fourth quarter. He completed 12, but more importantly, none of them ended up in the hands of the Jaguars -- only his fourth no-interception game of the season.

The only thing missing from his rookie year was the red-yellow-green wristband.

"Well, I thought he was good," Ryan said. "I liked the way he played, smart with the football."

Sanchez committed his 19th turnover (and sixth in the past three games) on a strip sack by Jason Babin, leading to a Jaguars field goal. For the second straight week, the Jets trailed at halftime 3-0 -- a case of deja p.u. His scoreless drought had reached 16 straight possessions, dating to last week.

This was against the league's 31st-ranked defense. The Jets were on their way to one of those losses that gets coaches fired. Finally, the running game started clicking. They scored on three out of four possessions to open a 17-3 lead, and hung on despite the defense's best efforts to give it away.

"I like the will of our football team," Ryan said.

With a bares-bones lineup, the Jets coached around Sanchez, trying to avoid obvious passing situations. In the end, he needed to make only one important throw, a third-down strike to Jeff Cumberland for 37 yards with about 2:50 to play. It enabled them to kill more clock.

Moments later, faced with a third-and-8 near midfield, the Jets went ultra-conservative -- a handoff into the line for no gain. In essence, Ryan decided he'd rather have his punter on the field than Sanchez dropping back to pass.

A lack of trust?

"Oh, I don't think so," Sanchez said. "I mean, you have to ask coach that. I felt good."

The Jets are all about Ugly Ball. That style works if you can rush for 166 yards and play lights-out defense every week, but it leaves little margin for error. In the offseason, they should take a hard look at their offensive philosophy.

It's 1980s football.

"It's nice when it works, but it's hard work," guard Brandon Moore said. "It's not easy. & We've won games like that. It's definitely tough to do in this league against offenses that can put up points."

The Jets aren't one of those teams. With them, it's all about the ugly. They're the bearded woman in the circus.

Rich Cimini

ESPN New York Jets reporter

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