For weeks Rex Ryan stubbornly insisted that Mark Sanchez gave Gang Green the best chance to win.
Well, all that changed with 4:48 left in the third quarter when Greg McElroy took the helm down by three and led the Jets to an ugly 7-6 win over Arizona. There is no doubt that this win was directly attributable to this momentous move making McElroy (at least against the Cardinals) the guy who gave the Jets the best chance to win.
The timing of Ryan's decision was odd. Sanchez (10-for-21 passing, 97 yards, three INTs) had a miserable first half throwing three interceptions and scoring no points. You would think that his benching would have occurred at the start of the second half. Sanchez, however, remained in charge after halftime. While the Jets didn't do much, Sanchez didn't make matters worse in the third quarter, and the Jets were down only 3-0 at the time. It therefore was surprising to see McElroy warming up on the sideline with seven minutes left.
On the other hand, other than the boo birds, the three-quarters-full MetLife Stadium was pretty quiet all game. The loudest it got was when McElroy took the field. The Jets seemed to feed off this energy, driving down the field (mostly with rushing plays) for the Jets' first and only score of the game, a McElroy- to-Cumberland 1-yard pass. If Ryan was waiting for and acting upon his spidey-sense, it sure worked!
Sanchez's body language following the demotion was interesting. There was no throwing of his helmet or kicking the bench. He gave McElroy some words of encouragement and dutifully assumed the clipboard. Either he is very classy or he was relieved to let someone else take a shot. In my opinion, he's both. Mark said during his postgame news conference, "It just wasn't my day. I didn't throw well," and acknowledged that he missed receivers. So regardless, being told to step aside couldn't have been a surprise.
Offense: Solid Rushing, Anemic Passing
The Jets had a solid rushing day. Shonn Greene (24 carries, 104 yards) and Bilal Powell (12-58) both averaged over 4.0 yards per carry and had some nice double-digit gains. Interestingly, Greene's best runs came following Sanchez's benching and Powell's effective running. You think these things were a wakeup call for him? It was curious that Rex put newly acquired Khalil Bell in at RB when Joe McKnight got hurt. Bell caught an outlet pass but failed to protect the ball, leading to a fumble deep in Jets territory.
The Jets' aerial attack was horrible, including multiple bad passes by Sanchez, a drop by Chaz Schilens on a long throw, and a wrong route run by Stephen Hill on a pass play to him. McElroy's numbers were better (5-for-7, 29 yards, one TD) but he wasn't asked to do much. Ryan hasn't yet decided who will be his quarterback next week against Jacksonville but I'm expecting McElroy to get the start.
Defense: Paper Tigers
On paper, the Jets defense was dominant. Arizona was 0-for-15 on third-down conversions and had nine three-and-outs.
However, before you get too excited, keep in mind that Cardinals QB Ryan Lindley is awful. Most of his throws were not catchable. His ineffective passing allowed the Jets to load the box on obvious running plays. The Jets kept the Cardinals to 2.0 yards per rush (excluding a fake punt that went for a huge gain). In terms of pressure, the Jets managed two sacks despite the Cardinals giving up, by far, the most sacks in the entire NFL (48).
Muhammad Wilkerson and LaRon Landry continue to be the Jets' best two defenders.
Special Teams: Bad Play Continues
The special teams woes continue. Nick Folk started the season hot but has recently been inconsistent. He missed two field goals today (although both were long kicks that bounced off the uprights).
The biggest gaffe occurred as time was winding down in the second quarter The Cardinals faked a punt and caught the Jets napping as Rashad Johnson ran for 40 yards. The trick play led to the Redbirds scoring their first field goal with no time on the clock. If the Jets had stopped the fake, then they would have great field position with enough time to possibly score. The primary culprit on this play was Kyle Wilson. He failed to watch for the fake and therefore realize that he should turn around (rather than follow the gunner) to help make a tackle until it was way too late.
Even though it was an ugly 7-6 final, I'm happy that we won. However, I have no confidence that Gang Green will run the table against the next four weak opponents. In fact, next week's opponent, the Jaguars, and their new quarterback, Chad Henne, have been playing well as of late. So McElroy et al. will have their hands full. Hopefully, Greg will get all the first-team reps this week so he'll be ready for the challenge.