Unlike last week in Detroit, Mark Sanchez started out on fire here tonight against the Jacksonville Jaguars. But his first half ended on a couple of low notes, and this QB battle between the fifth-year veteran and rookie Geno Smith seems just as wide open as it was when training camp commenced at SUNY Cortland more than three weeks ago.
Displaying the good decision making, accuracy and footwork that offensive coordinator Marty Morhinweg and QB coach David Lee demand of their quarterbacks, Sanchez led the Green & White to 10 points on the Jets' first two possessions. He was five of six for 59 yards and only a high toss — albeit a catchable one — to Stephen Hill stopped him early on.
But then he cooled off in the second quarter and a pair of trips inside the visitors' 10-yard-line ended with two Sanchez miscues and no points for the home club. Facing a third-and-goal from the 3, Sanchez forced a ball in the direction of Kellen Winslow Jr. Two defenders were in the vicinity and Marcus Trufant — Isaiah Trufant's older brother — was underneath and collected the ball for an untimely interception.
"It was a tight lane. Looking back on it, probably watching film, I might want to wait for Stephen (Hill) on the outside," said No. 6. "I think assessing the throw, I should've put it out in front of Kellen a little more and gave him a chance to make a better play on that one."
But the Jets were awarded a gift when return man Tobais Palmer muffed a Ryan Quigley punt and reserve TE Konrad Reuland recovered at the Jags' 3. Yet the Jets actually moved back three yards before Sanchez took a third down snap with six seconds on the game clock. If nothing was there, Sanchez had to get rid of the ball quickly. Instead the offense wasted an almost automatic field goal when Sanchez rolled right and continue to roll while the clock ticked down to 0:00. His pass fell incomplete and the Jets went into the half down 13-10.
"That won't happen again," Sanchez said. "That shouldn't happen. I have to get rid of that ball sooner and not scramble. I know better than that and it won't happen."
Remaining in the game to start the third stanza, the up and down Sanchez came back to lead the Jets to a pair of TDs and 17 points as New York's AFC representative raced out on top for good. He hit veteran Braylon Edwards on a pair of lengthy connections for 26 and 19 yards respectively, and then he feathered one in there to Reuland for 31 more.
Viewed as a golden opportunity for Sanchez (13-23-169-1TD-INT) to take a commanding lead in the QB race with Smith on the sideline, Sanchez had his moments. There were stretches of efficient, brilliant football, but there were also the lapses.
Smith, who was one of the best players on the Cortland playing fields early in camp, battled through most of the practices last week after he tweaked his ankle against the Lions. Mornhinweg told me that he didn't consider that contest a true evaluation and that he still would like to turn the rookie loose and let him go play.
"Any chance I get to compete I'm going to try and take full advantage of it," said Smith after this contest. "Like I said, I got another week of practice coming up. So I'm going to go out there with the right mentality and try to win the job."
If Smith returns to 100%, then this fascinating QB race is still anybody's ballgame.
"We'll see how it goes," said head coach Rex Ryan. "We're not willing to name a starting quarterback right now. Will we name one before the Giants game? I don't know, but right now, we're not comfortable making that decision.