When analyzing a football team at any level, consider which position player is most ready and prepared heading into a game. The result almost always is unanimous: the quarterback.
Sunday afternoon, Jets QB Mark Sanchez was ready and he surely was prepared. How could he not be? He was facing the Miami Dolphins, an AFC East opponent on the road.
The performance wasn't pretty early on from No. 6. But when it mattered most, he delivered and the Jets were able to exit Sun Life Stadium with a 23-20 overtime win, improve to 2-1 overall to sit atop their division along with the Buffalo Bills.
"This thing was a roller-coaster, no doubt," Sanchez said following the victory. "I'm really proud of the offensive line, the receivers, running backs, guys blocking and catching the ball when we needed to there at the end, and for picking me up when I didn't have it today."
Sanchez finished the day 21-of-45 passing for 306 yards — the sixth 300-yard passing game of his career — but also had two interceptions, one on the Jets' opening offensive drive and the other on their opening drive of the second half. Sanchez described the second INT, a pass intended for rookie WR Stephen Hill, as "kind of a schematic error."
"I just wasn't making throws that I can make," the quarterback said of his early struggles. "I have to go back and study the film to see if it was my footwork. Something wasn't right early and that's the way it goes sometimes. You study your butt off and you feel good about the plan, you feel good in warmups, and sometimes it just doesn't work."
Despite the mistakes in the beginning, Sanchez remained upbeat. Trailing, 17-13, and only 5:34 left in regulation, the Jets began a drive on their own 47.
On the first play of the drive, Sanchez hit WR Santonio Holmes for 18 yards into Miami territory. Holmes again would be the recipient of a Sanchez pass when he produced a 15-yard reception two plays later. Following two handoffs to Shonn Greene, Sanchez connected on a 7-yard slant to WR Jeremy Kerley for the touchdown that gave the Jets their first lead of the game at 20-17.
"I believed in Mark," Holmes said. "I kept talking to him all game. He and I talked about winning this ballgame together. We believed in each other. Coach [Tony] Sparano allowed us to go out and play Holmes and Sanchez football and we got the job done."
Miami answered with a field goal on their next drive to send the game into overtime, and Sanchez and the Jets offense couldn't counterpunch on their opening drive of the extra session.
Then rookie QB Ryan Tannehill guided the Dolphins into field goal range. With a chance to win the game, Dolphins kicker Dan Carpenter lined up for a 48-yard FG, but missed wide left.
Sanchez and the Jets offense wouldn't let another opportunity pass them by. After a 6-yard completion to TE Jeff Cumberland, Sanchez found his top target, Holmes, once again, this time for a 38-yard completion that took the Green & White all the way to the Miami 18.
"He beat the guy up the sideline and it was my job to get him the ball, so I got him the best ball I could," Sanchez said. "He caught the thing in stride and I thought he was going to score."
Moments later, kicker Nick Folk sealed the comeback victory with his 33-yard field goal.
"I had no doubt that if this thing came down to the wire, we've got the firepower to win it," Sanchez said. "I always feel like that."
That's certainly good to remember, especially as the Jets now will shift their focus toward an important three-game homestand that begins next Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers.