After totaling seven three-and-outs in a Week 5 loss to the Patriots, the Jets started Monday night's contest against the Dolphins with four consecutive three-and-outs. But then they finally got the ball rolling with 6:17 left in the second quarter and everything was downhill from there as the Green & White cruised to a 24-6 win at MetLife Stadium.
" 'Just hang with it, stay into it,' " said Mark Sanchez of his early message to his teammates. " 'Don't worry, we'll get on track.' And we sure did. We did it right before halftime when we needed to. The defense got us the ball and we started rolling."
Buoyed by Darrelle Revis' 100-yard INT return in the opening quarter, Sanchez and company had a 7-6 lead despite the Dolphins' domination of the early action and the visitors' three trips inside the red zone. But then Sanchez hit rookie Jeremy Kerley for 14 on a third-and-9 play past the midway point of the second quarter and it was as if the whole stadium exhaled.
Four snaps later, Sanchez got a long gainer to TE Dustin Keller for 27 yards. Then following a 20-yarder up the right sideline to Santonio Holmes, offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer got creative. A clever 9-yard shovel pass to LaDainian Tomlinson preceded Sanchez's 5-yard keeper that came on third down.
"It was huge. We were right there and just about to break through on some of those third downs," Sanchez said. "They gave me the call on the goal line, I ran it in and it was sweet."
"The defense definitely bailed us out," added Keller. "We started out real slow. Then we started realizing what they were doing and things started clicking. Mark started throwing the ball all over the place and guys were making plays."
At the half, the Jets were fortunate to be up, 14-6, when you consider five first downs and 100 total yards. But that final drive in the half seemed to take a lot out of the Dolphins. When the Jets got the ball early in the third, they kept the rock 13 plays and 79 yards and tacked on another three with a 28-yard Nick Folk field goal. The drive took 7:16 off the clock and featured another long gainer from Sanchez to Keller as they connected for 24 on a third-and-2 play.
"We hadn't had many big plays — explosive plays, plus-25 passes, those kinds of big momentum plays that really break down a defense," Sanchez said. "If we just get a couple more third-down conversions and keep some of those big plays in our arsenal, we'll be tough to beat."
Early in the fourth, the fat lady began to sing when Sanchez had all night to find Holmes cutting across the middle for a 38-yard TD.
"Dustin ate up two defensive backs, Santonio stayed alive on the scramble, the O-line held up for about 3.5, 4 seconds at least," Sanchez said. "I told [Tone] sorry on the sideline — 'Sorry, man, I took an hour and a half to get rid of it. My bad. I'll get rid of it sooner.' "
The Jets offensive line had a solid outing and was particularly effective in pass-blocking. Sanchez, who completed 14 of 25 for 201 yards with no turnovers, didn't hear from Cameron Wake as big RT Wayne Hunter played perhaps his finest game of 2011.
"We played them last year. I'm sure everybody last year remembers the last minute, minute and a half of the game," Hunter said in reference to the Jets' 10-6 loss in Week 14 to the 'Fins here at the Met. "I played a good game against him and then I gave up two sacks, so that's one thing I didn't want to have happen."
Maybe Monday was another step in Sanchez's maturation process. He didn't play a great game, but he didn't lose his composure when the boo birds were out early and the offense was scuffling again. Instead, they scored 17 points and that was enough on this night.
"He keeps on coming back. He's not going to let that stuff get him down," Keller said. "He's just going to continue to play his game. Obviously we'd like to start a lot faster than that, but you always want to end the game at your best and I think we did."
The Jets will have to play much better to beat the 4-1 San Diego Chargers in Week 7. If they turn in a repeat of 13 first downs, 6-for-15 on third downs and 296 yards against the Bolts, they will have a difficult time moving to 4-3. But after three consecutive losses and too many three-and-outs, they'll take the "W" and move the chains.