The Jets thought they were getting a franchise player when they picked Mark Sanchez sixth overall. They wound up getting a Sanchize player, but no one's complaining.
It wasn't perfect, it wasn't pretty and by no means was it all about him, but the legend of Sanchez is only going to grow and grow after he took everything the Titans threw his way and came out the other side a 24-17 winner at the Meadowlands. After the first drive of the game, it looked like they might be renaming whole chunks of the city after him. Sanchez completed his first five passes before scrambling 14 yards for a touchdown while enduring a cringe-inducing hit at the goal line. He came up pumping his fists before another raucous crowd, though, raising suspicion that he might not be human at all.
Those suspicions went away in the second quarter as the Jets offense went into a hole and Sanchez had issues holding onto the ball. He was sacked twice, fumbled each time and the team had negative net yardage as the Titans closed a 14-0 lead to 14-10, and then took a 17-14 lead in the third quarter. His offensive line was letting him down and there was no running attack to speak of, but Sanchez, for the first time, seemed unsure of what to do when he was under center and the Titans defense started taking advantage.
But like any true hero, Sanchez, sporting the kind of five o'clock shadow that John McClane of "Die Hard" would be proud of, returned to shine when things seemed bleakest. Titans kick returner Ryan Mouton fumbled a punt, giving the Jets great field position which Sanchez quickly turned into a go-ahead touchdown thanks to two completions to Jerricho Cotchery. Mouton may be getting a game ball in the mail from Rex Ryan. His first quarter fumble on a kickoff return set up the second Jets touchdown. Then, in the fourth quarter, Sanchez found Cotchery for 46 yards down the left sideline to set up a Jay Feely field goal that accounted for the final scoring.
That set the stage for the defense's redemption after they allowed their first two touchdowns of the season. Titans quarterback Kerry Collins had led the comeback because the pass rush that's marked the first two weeks of the season disappeared for much of the first two and a half quarters, but it came back with a vengeance once the Jets were back in front. Collins failed to complete any of his final 13 passes, a mixture of drops by receivers and a furious pass rush that took away the comfort zone he'd been provided in the early going.
David Harris caused the most problems for Collins, fouling up two consecutive late Titans drives with an interception and then a sack. The defense looked much more vulnerable than it has at any other point this season, but they made the necessary adjustments and picked up the pace until the Titans were just as helpless as the Texans and Patriots were during the first two seasons.
Sanchez looked vulnerable at times as well, but there was still more good than bad in his most impressive performance to date. In sports and in all of life, you hear often that you find about a person's true strength by the way they react to adversity. Sanchez faced tons of it today and it shook him but it didn't beat him. The strong arm and mobility under pressure are super, but that reaction is what you want in a quarterback or the rest doesn't matter.
How big can the hype machine get for a rookie quarterback in New York who just became the first rookie to win his first three games since the NFL and AFL merged in 1970? Mark Sanchez, and all the rest of us, are about to find out.