Mark Sanchez nearly let go what little grasp he had left on the Jets’ starting quarterback job with a horrific start in Friday night’s 26-17 loss to the Detroit Lions. But in familiar fashion the maddeningly inconsistent veteran bounced back with a performance that may have given him the edge in a tight quarterback competition.
On the Jets fourth offensive play, Sanchez under threw a screen pass which Detroit’s rookie defensive end, Ziggy Ansah, intercepted and returned for a touchdown, giving the Lions an early 7-0 lead.
“On those screens, you’ve got to find a way to either change your arm angle, or something,” head coach Rex Ryan said, “but we can’t throw picks there, there’s no doubt about that.”
Sanchez called the play “a pain in the butt,” but unlike previous years the veteran didn’t dwell on the error and went on to rebound with a solid performance. He then engineered an 80 yard scoring drive which ended in a 24 yard touchdown pass to a wide open Jeff Cumberland. Sanchez finished the game 10-for-13, for 125 yards, one touchdown, and one interception.
Other than the obvious error Sanchez played very well. He threw with good accuracy, made a number of great reads on blown coverages, and showed a clear understanding of the new Marty Mornhinweg system.
“Marty [Mornhinweg] gets the calls in quick and he’s pushing us up to the line — I love that aspect of it,” Sanchez said. “We even had a little no-huddle in there. Other than one crappy play, I didn’t think it was too bad.”
On the other hand, rookie Geno Smith looked tentative and indecisive with the football before he hobbled off the field in the third quarter with an ankle injury. Smith went down untouched in the open field when his ankle rolled awkwardly.
After the game, the rookie said he was in “complete disbelief” when he felt the pain and hoped it wasn’t anything significant. Smith also said that if it was a regular season game he would’ve continued to play.
“I’m the type of guy, I’m not going to walk off that field unless they pull me off of it,” Smith said.
Before the injury Smith had four unsuccessful drives, 2 with the first team and 2 with the second. He was 6-of-7 for 47 yards, but only his first pass, a 15 yard completion to Clyde Gates, went for a first down. Overall, Smith’s performance wasn’t horrible; he didn’t make any mistakes and completed the majority of his passes, but he didn’t look ready to be an NFL starter just yet.
After Smith left the game, third string quarterback Greg McElroy had an impressive second half with the offense. He made a string of accurate throws deep down the field, including a touchdown pass to Zack Rodgers, which made the score 20-14. Although it came against the third team defense, McElroy looked like a much more NFL ready quarterback than Geno Smith. It almost seems a shame that he was quickly forgotten about as a candidate in the quarterback competition as he has impressed throughout camp.
On the defensive side of the ball the Jets starters had a generally strong performance, allowing only 10 points, which came on a 15 yard pass over the head of Darrin Walls — who replaced Antonio Cromartie early in the game. In his new role, Quinton Coples lined up in a variety of positions along the defensive front and had an even amount of good and bad plays; he batted down Matt Stafford’s first attempt of the game, but then failed to set the edge on a long first down run by Reggie Bush moments later. Coples is still a work in progress but had a positive start in his new position.
The Jets return to practice in Cortland on Sunday. They will break camp on Thursday and return to the team facility in Florham Park to prepare for their next game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at Metlife Stadium next Saturday.