Updated Sunday, 1:36 a.m. ET
Mark Sanchez might have been able to score a knockout tonight. Instead, after our 37-13 win over Jacksonville in the preseason home opener, the quarterback fight will go on.
Sanchez got the starting nod for the second straight preseason game, and two hours before kickoff, it was announced that Geno Smith, hobbled by his sore right ankle, would not play against the Jaguars. No. 6 took it from there.
Sanchez directed scoring drives on his first two possessions. On his next four he threw an interception in the end zone for a touchback, had two three-and-outs, and failed to leave enough time on a third-down scramble and incompletion for a last-second field goal to end the first half.
Then No. 6 came out for four more drives, with the second offense, for the third quarter. Sanchez was back on his game with a 50-yard drive to Kahlil Bell's 5-yard draw to a go-ahead touchdown, then a short march, after LB Danny Lansanah's leaping interception, to another Bell TD to open the lead to 24-13. Finally for Mark, a 30-yard minidrive concluded with Mr. 50-yarder, Nick Folk, converting from 54 yards out for a 27-13 edge.
"I feel like with Geno not playing, it was going to go on until he got another shot," Sanchez said after the game. "I don't really worry about it that way. I felt like we were really close tonight. We were close to breaking things open. I thought we had a great first drive. We got down in the red zone a couple of times. So we'll clean up some of those things and keep moving forward."
Matt Simms came on for the fourth quarter as the Jets, whose last victory of any kind came by 17-10 at Jacksonville last Dec. 9, evened their preseason record at 1-1 and ended their six-game preseason losing streak dating to the last game of the summer of '11.
So will the QB competition continue, Rex Ryan?
"Yes, absolutely," the head coach said. "We'll see how it goes. 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."
The Giants game, of course, is this Saturday night. Did Sanchez think Smith would get that start?
"I have no idea. Ask Rex," he said, adding with a smile, "Did you ask him?"
Smith said after the game that he's ready to go if called on.
"We'll play it day by day," he said. "Based on what I was told, the competition is still open. They've still got a long time to evaluate. We don't know yet but we'll see." He added that his ankle is "doing a lot better, pretty much as close to 100 percent as it has felt over the past week."
Sanchez opened the game with a 59-yard drive to his 23-yard touchdown hookup with TE Jeff Cumberland. It was the second consecutive drive that ended with a Sanchez-to-Cumberland strike, going back to his last series at Detroit, the first back-to-back TD drives since Game 11 at St. Louis last year, and the first first-drive TD since Game 7 at New England.
"I had the linebacker on me 1-on-1," Cumberland said. "When I came out, I broke out my route, the linebacker fell, and I just caught the ball and ran into the end zone."
Next drive, after a Jaguars answering score, he moved the offense 53 yards to Billy Cundiff's 30-yard field goal and a 10-7 lead. He had completed five of his first six passes for 59 yards.
Then came the second-quarter doldrums. Sanchez's longest drive of the night went from our 16 to the Jags 3. But on third down, the QB tried to thread the needle to TE Kellen Winslow and instead found the hands of Marcus Trufant — yes, Isaiah's older brother — for an end zone interception.
Next came a pair of three-and-out drives. Then fortune seemed to smile on the hosts as Konrad Reuland recovered rookie Tobais Turner's muffed punt return at the Jags 3 in the last minute of the half. But Sanchez scrambled to the 1, then threw an incompletion, then we took an illegal-shift penalty, then Sanchez rolled out and tried to find a receiver on the short field on third down. He threw it away. Trouble was, the clock, which showed 6 seconds at the start of the play, ran out during the scramble. The Jets went into the locker room trailing, 13-10.
"That won't happen again — that shouldn't happen," Sanchez said. "I have to get rid of that ball sooner and not scramble. I know better than that and it won't happen."
With an also hobbled Greg McElroy and Simms on the sideline, Ryan stayed with Sanchez through the third quarter, resulting in Bell's two TD runs and Folk's longball.
Sanchez finished 13-for-23 passing for 169 yards, one TD, one INT and one sack. Bilal Powell ran the ball smartly with 68 yards on seven carries, including a game-long and NFL-career-long 37-yard burst.
The first-team defense struggled with the Jaguars' at-times hurryup attack in yielding 231 yards, 13 first downs and the 13 points in the first half, but the "twos" and "threes" came up bigger with the Lansanah pick, nice coverage by CB Darrin Walls, and a crowning recovery of an errant shotgun snap by rookie CB Mike Edwards for the final TD with 2:44 to play.