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Can Jets’ O-Line Keep Sanchez On His Feet? Super Bowl Hopes Could Depend On It

(credit: Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)

(credit: Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)

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NEW YORK (WFAN/AP) — Mark Sanchez got shoved, knocked around and slammed to the turf by the Dallas Cowboys, and has the bumps and bruises to prove it.

He’s got a few precautionary concussion test results, too.

It was one of those brutally physical nights for the Jets quarterback. And it was only the first game.

“I feel good,” Sanchez said Wednesday. “Felt like we just had a physical game and the training staff just wanted to be extra cautious and make sure I’m doing well, especially at the beginning of the season so I can make it through the long haul.”

MORE:Schwartz: Sanchez Feeling Fine

The Jets’ season and their Super Bowl hopes could depend on that. They need their franchise quarterback healthy, and know they need to do a better job of protecting Sanchez. He was sacked four times by the Cowboys on Sunday night, and hit almost a dozen times in a 27-24 victory.

He appeared weary after the game, and underwent tests Sunday and Monday to make sure he was OK.

“We all saw that he took some hits, so everything that we did was more precautionary,” coach Rex Ryan said. “I’m happy to report that he passed with flying colors.”

Sanchez said he woke up Monday feeling fine and spent the day resting, getting a massage and sitting in the cold tub to help him recover.

The fact Sanchez was able to withstand the pounding and still help lead the Jets to a victory impressed his teammates. Even the ones who razzed him a bit for his recent GQ magazine photo spread, which featured shots of Sanchez wearing tight white pants in one and sitting in a tub in another.

“You wouldn’t think a GQ cover guy would be as tough as he is, but he’s a tough guy,” wide receiver Plaxico Burress said. “He’ll battle through. It’s not like he’s sitting in the chair getting makeup brushed on anything. He’s a tough guy.”

Right tackle Wayne Hunter, who replaced the retired Damien Woody, had a long night trying to block DeMarcus Ware, who had two sacks. But Sanchez pinned the blame on himself for two of the four sacks.

“Totally my fault, no question,” he said. “I mean, all the way. I should’ve gotten rid of the ball. Other than that, you take a couple of hits, I’ll throw a bad ball, somebody misses a block or somebody makes a wrong cut. That stuff’s going to happen. We can live with those. But, don’t set yourself up and just stand there and take a shot.”

Still, the offensive line must do a better job of keeping Sanchez upright.

“He got knocked down about 10 times last week, so clearly, you don’t want that to happen unless you had Roman Gabriel back there or something, who weighed like 280 (pounds),” Ryan said. “We need to do a better job of protecting him and we need to be able to run the ball better, so I think that kind of goes hand-in-hand.”

The Jets’ usual “Ground-and-Pound” approach fell to the wayside early as they ran for just 45 yards on 16 carries. Meanwhile, Sanchez threw 44 times for 335 yards, one off his career high. Ryan said he doesn’t want to make a habit of having the offense tilted so heavily in favor of the passing game.

But one thing that has become a disturbingly normal occurrence is the Jets’ inability to score a touchdown in the first quarter. They are at 16 straight games without getting into the end zone in the opening 15 minutes, but hope to fix all that Sunday against Jacksonville.

“Nobody thinks we’re going to come out and go three-and-out,” Sanchez said. “At least, I hope they don’t. But that’s not the kind of team we have. We’ve been a slow-starting kind of team for 16 games or whatever. Something’s got to change. Maybe it’s our attitude.

“I think the play-calling’s fine. We just need to convert on third down. Whether it’s me throwing a more accurate ball or not getting sacked on the first play, that kind of stuff. A sack is a drive killer, but we can’t have negative plays on first down.”

Burress acknowledged that it isn’t just on the offensive line to protect Sanchez, but the running backs and receivers, too.

“We all have to do a better job, myself being alert on the hot blitzes and different things like that,” Burress said, “and make sure we are in the right places so he doesn’t have to hold onto the football and take those hits.”

Burress and Derrick Mason, the Jets’ two new veteran receivers, were slowly worked into the game Sunday as Sanchez focused at first on Santonio Holmes, Dustin Keller and LaDainian Tomlinson.

“I made a point of just going over to both and said, ‘Hang with me. Hang with me, I’ll get you the rock, don’t worry. Just keep running the routes, stay sharp and trust me: I will throw you the ball. It’ll happen,'” Sanchez said. “And, thank God it did because they would’ve been mad. But, they showed poise, they stayed into the game and I’m really happy with the way our chemistry’s working.”

Burress finished with four catches for 72 yards, including a pretty 26-yard spinning touchdown, while Mason had three receptions for 19 yards.

“Playing quarterback in the National Football League is the hardest job in sports, other than being a goalie in the NHL or hitting a baseball,” Burress said. “We are going to go as he goes. He’s getting better, every day. We’re working tirelessly to be on the same page and when we get on Sundays, to try to make it be easy. But everything is a process. He’s coming along and I expect for him to keep getting better, week in and week out.”

Notes: The Jets are wearing their New York Titans “throwback” uniforms this weekend, something Ryan knows some fans aren’t in favor of. “We’re 4-1 in those blue uniforms, so anything for a win,” Ryan said. “It doesn’t matter if it was purple, we’d be wearing purple. … The fans, I understand, aren’t really happy with it, but just bear with us for this one game. Let’s make it 5-1 and we’ll all be happy.”

Do the Jets have enough o-line talent to keep Sanchez off the turf? Sound off below…

(TM and Copyright 2011 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2011 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)