After Monday night's complete mess of a performance against the Ravens you could probably have gotten some pretty fantastic odds on a bet that Mark Sanchez would outplay Tom Brady on Sunday afternoon at the Meadowlands. Anyone who did make such a bet is pledging to rename their first born after the Jets quarterback while ensuring that paying their college education is no problem.
Sanchez played the best game of his NFL life and the Jets recovered from an awful first quarter to beat the Patriots 28-14 and restore hope to a jittery fan base in the wake of the loss on opening night. Sanchez completed 21-of-30 passes for 220 yards and three touchdowns in a virtuoso performance that only makes what happened against the Ravens more baffling.
Yes, the Ravens have a better defense than the Patriots but the calm, composed quarterback who led the Jets on Sunday was one that never showed up in Week One. A good portion of that must be credited to a game plan that actually put Sanchez in a position to succeed, rather than one that asked him to not screw up, with the remainder due to a quarterback who is continually reminding us that you don't become a first-tier NFL quarterback overnight.
We're getting awfully gushy here, but anyone who watched the game has to agree that they saw something they did not expect to see from the Jets quarterback. With the pressure of a city weighing on his back, Sanchez stepped up and led his team past their biggest rival with 21 straight points after they fell behind on a long touchdown pass that saw Randy Moss make Darrelle Revis eat every last one of his words.
And, more significantly, grab his hamstring. Revis left the game after that play with the hamstring injury that bothered him all week and Antonio Cromartie moved up to take on Moss. What seemed like disaster turned into a positive for the Jets as Cromartie intercepted one pass, forced another one and generally took Moss out of the game in the second half. The entire Jets defense stepped up in the final 30 minutes and again we must tip our caps to the defensive coaches who adjusted and shut down just about everything the Pats were doing to control the ball and the game in the opening minutes.
Brady turned the ball over once more on a splendid strip sack by Jason Taylor deep in Jets territory. That allowed the Jets to exhale and begin savoring their victory, but the final sigh of relief didn't come until Rex Ryan chose to go for it on fourth and inches at midfield. A miss and Brady would have a short field and just enough time to make things interesting, but LaDainian Tomlinson went over the top, got the first down and the celebration began.
It was gutsy, as was putting the game in Sanchez's hands six days after he looked so troubled against Baltimore, but it was exactly what Ryan should have been doing all along. Saying you're going to kick the tails of every team in the league is well and good, but your actions have to justify that kind of talk. To paraphrase an old Jets coach, they played not to lose the game and you've got to play to win the game.