When the Jets and the Ravens met in Week 1 last season, the Green & White probably respected their foes a little too much and were overcautious in their attempt to protect their young quarterback from danger.
"We had so many plays and so many specific plays for one specific look, and then you're hearing from other coaches, 'Be really careful' and 'Watch out for this guy,' " said Mark Sanchez this week. "There was so much going into it, that you're almost stuck at the line. You're almost frozen there trying to make it just right.
"And this game is not like that. It doesn't happen like that. Things change. Guys move. Protections get busted. You miss a read. Things happen. I don't think we had very good contingency plans for it."
The Jets opened up MetLife Stadium with a 10-9 loss to the Edgar Allen Poes, an ugly affair in which Sanchez completed 10 of 21 for 74 yards as the Green & White went 1-of-11 on third downs.
A lot has changed for both clubs since then, but perhaps nothing more significant than the handcuffs being removed from Sanchez. The Jets head down to Maryland this week with an offense averaging 27.7 points a game and 278.7 passing yards, numbers which rank ninth and 10th respectively in the league. As Randy Lange pointed out this week, the Jets are a 62.2 percent passing offense entering Week 4.
And while Sanchez hasn't been perfect, he's been really good and he's still climbing. His 90.1 passer rating is almost 15 points better than his rating at the end of last year (75.3), and his completion percentage of 62.5 is far better than his 54.8 and 53.8 marks in 2010 and '09.
Numbers are one thing, but did you read what one of the top linebackers in NFL history said about the 24-year-old passer?
"I think the consistency of his reads, you see he's very decisive on where he wants to go with the ball. That's what you see in a veteran quarterback as they grow and grow," said Ravens LB Ray Lewis. "They always start to get comfortable to where they look you off one way or here, and they know where they're actually going to go with the ball."
Late in the fourth quarter of Week 3, Sanchez froze Raiders defenders when he glanced over the middle before lofting a spiral up the left sideline to Plaxico Burress for a 16-yard score.
"You look at one of those big plays that he had in Oakland last week, just looking the guy off and then coming back to Plaxico and things like that," Lewis said. "So I think his progression reads have definitely gotten better."
There have been hiccups along the way. He has thrown four interceptions and all of those takeaways transpired because defenders anticipated the ball coming their way. None of the quartet was deflected at the line, and last week Sanchez squandered a scoring opportunity with a bad pick immediately following a 53-yard punt return from rookie Jeremy Kerley.
"There's been some great throws and some great reads and great decisions, and then there have been a couple of bonehead decisions that would have made our offense look a lot better and potentially helped us win that game last week," Sanchez said. "Is there room for improvement? No question."
The Jets need their quarterback at his best this week. They'll run it at times, but — with or without C Nick Mangold — their best chance of winning is with No. 6 tossing the rock. The Ravens don't have corners that scare you and Titans QB Matt Hasselbeck completed 20 passes for 358 yards against the Titans in Week 2.
But the maligned line will have to be solid in pass protection (Sanchez will wear a shield this week after breaking his nose in Oaktown) against a team that has already racked up nine sacks. And Sanchez has to be cognizant of S Ed Reed at all times.
"I wish I had another set of eyes," Sanchez said with a smile. "He's one of those guys who's that good. He's so smart and savvy in the back end there. He just kind of plays center field. Sure he plays his scheme and knows his assignment, but at the same time he has a real good feel for things."
Reed, who has registered 56 interceptions throughout his illustrious career, already has two in 2011. The Ravens made Ben Roethlisberger look like a peewee in their only home game to date, picking him off three times and turning the Steelers over seven times in all.
"Obviously you don't want to telegraph anything," Sanchez said in reference to Reed. "You don't just want to stare something down and expect him not to be there because that's what he does so well. You're not going to change your drops and change where you're looking. You don't want to be a bobblehead back there."
A year after being "frozen" against the Ravens, Mark Sanchez is warming up. If he can get hot Sunday night, the Jets have a good chance to move to 3-1.
"I think if you have a receiving corps like that, a tight end like that, you have backs that can protect and can catch the ball out of the backfield like they do, along with Mark Sanchez growing as a quarterback, why wouldn't you throw it?" said Ravens head coach John Harbaugh. "They have weapons all over the place and that obviously makes you nervous as a defense."