No one who saw the first half of Monday night's game against the Ravens could make a straight-faced argument that Mark Sanchez is totally ready to be a NFL starter. He threw an interception on his first pass, almost threw another one on his second pass and picked up two delay of game penalties as the Ravens defense hounded him into several mistakes. He looked every inch the rookie that he is, and you could see the way his maturation process would hurt the Jets at times this season.
At the same time, though, he got up off the deck and looked better as the game went along. Sure, his touchdown pass came after Ray Lewis and Ed Reed left the field, but so did Kellen Clemens' own interception. Which one of those things makes you want someone to be your quarterback more when the games start counting for real?
If you did watch the game, you doubtlessly heard Jon Gruden talking about how Joe Flacco of the Ravens played as a rookie. You heard it because Gruden screams loud enough to make you wonder if he understands how sound gets transmitted via television, but you didn't hear much about the way Flacco "won" the job. Troy Smith needed to have his appendix removed, eliminating Flacco's competition and offering him a free path to the job. Clemens hasn't been in the hospital, but he may as well be for all the argument he's making for his own spot in the lineup.
If Clemens, with four years under his belt, looks no better than Sanchez now, how is he going to look better than him once Sanchez has experienced the defenses of the Ravens and, coming up next, the Giants? Sanchez looked nervous and he blundered, but so did Clemens and only Sanchez is a safe bet to improve as time goes on.
The brightest spot on Monday came when Jets offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer realized that Leon Washington was the most talented player on his team. Early in the game Schottenheimer, who has a disturbing habit of making things much more complicated than they need to be, had Sanchez playing as a proto-Peyton Manning. All the hand signals, audibles and shifting didn't do Sanchez any favors, but getting back to basics had the Jets offense looking the best it did all night.
And for this team, basics means getting the ball to Washington and letting him work his way down the field behind an offensive line that did a better job blocking for the run than they did for the pass. Thomas Jones looked good as well, and once they got to work the game slowed down and Sanchez had a chance to succeed. The Jets have to recognize what they're good at and play to that because that's the surest way to add quarterback play to the list of strengths.
It's not a strength now, not by a longshot, but someone's got to receive the snaps. Because of who he is and because of who else they have, Sanchez is the right guy for the job right now.