Perusing the wires this morning, two schools of thought about responding to Mark Sanchez's frightful Sunday in New Orleans seem to have emerged. The first is to mock Jets fans for daring to enjoy the fact that the rookie lead his team to wins in the first three weeks and, generally, call them dopes for finding some joy because smart people would have known he would lose at some point.
Needless to say, that's both mean-spirited and useless as analysis. Of course, Sanchez was going to lose a game and he was almost certainly going to look awful doing it. You can know that even as you are singing his praises after the first three weeks, even if it seems to be the M.O. of modern times that you're only as good as your last 24 hours. The saner, more common response to be found on Monday is that now we get to learn about Sanchez.
He had an awful day and the Jets very likely would have beaten the Saints if he'd just had a mediocre one. That doesn't mean he won't wind up being a good quarterback any more than his first three games should have led to assumptions about the rest of his career. There's a lot of talk about Bill Parcells and how he said that you learn a lot about quarterbacks after they've been bloodied, which seems apt since Sanchez was gushing like Pompeii by the end of the game. Judging from his appearance before reporters, he's begun cauterizing the wounds, though.
"It wasn’t the play-calling," said Sanchez. "It wasn’t the noise. It wasn’t the pink cleats. It was nothing like that. I’ve got to make better decisions. I’ll take that upon myself. I can wear this one."
Sanchez won't blame the play-calling, but the coaching staff deserves some criticism for their performance on Sunday. Everyone who follows football knows the Saints bring the house via the blitz and bring it often, yet the Jets receivers were running far too many routes that called for more time than the blocking could provide. The Jets tried to max protect, but that didn't work and Brian Schottenheimer's gotta alter the plan for the situation.
That's just as true of his strange relationship with the running game on Sunday. Every time it seemed to gain some momentum, Schottenheimer would go back to the pass including a pair of third-and-ones that failed. A third short third down call finally went to the run, but it got blown up thanks to an obvious formation choice that screamed Thomas Jones dive. None of it absolves Sanchez for not taking better care of the ball, but it's something that needs work.
The offensive line can go in that category as well. The unit got a lot of praise in the preseason, but they haven't lived up to advance billing and were particularly bad on Sunday. The running game had some moments on Sunday, but there were too many plays that were over before they started. And, as mentioned, the blitzes tended to be of the jailbreak variety and the Jets offered little resistance whatsoever. The line needs to be better, plain and simple.
Kris Jenkins also needs to be better. For the second straight week, the middle of the Jets defense was exploited for big gains on the ground which belies the idea that Jenkins is an immovable monster that can eliminate the running game all by himself. He also jumped offsides on a huge fourth-and-one that may or may not have been leading to an actual Saints play. Aggressive is good, but the mistake was a backbreaker in the fourth quarter and led to the icing touchdown by Saints running back Pierre Thomas.
That's all the bad, but the good deserves it's place in the sun. Sanchez handed 14 points to the Saints, but the defense had the Jets in position to tie the game well into the fourth quarter. Against an offense led by Drew Brees, that ain't nothing and confirms that it's a unit to be reckoned with. They held on their own goal line, stuffed a few fourth down tries and may have the finest cornerback in football in Darrelle Revis. Their brilliance shouldn't be ignored because Sanchez had a bad game.
Sanchez is, naturally, where we'll close the discussion of the Jets loss. Bad games and good quarterbacks aren't mutually exclusive, or else there'd be none in the Hall of Fame. That's not to say Sanchez is headed for Canton, but Sunday doesn't mean he's headed for Cleveland either. It's what comes next that counts and what comes next that decides what trajectory he's on.