‘From the Pressbox’
By Ernie Palladino
» More Ernie Palladino Columns
Ernie is the author of “Lombardi and Landry.” He’ll be covering football throughout the season.
You look at Mark Sanchez sometimes, and you wonder if you’re not watching a top-five quarterback.
And then you watch him in the first half against Buffalo, and you wonder if you’re not watching some college freshman making his first start.
It’s maddening. Maddeningly inconsistent, maddeningly tantalizing, all at the same time.
And none of it matters a bit, as long as the 5-3 Jets keep on winning.
Just keep the anti-acids nearby, because it may never be easy with Sanchez. Not yet, anyway.
That’s OK, though. Football fans should know by now that success in the NFL doesn’t necessarily come with a top-flight quarterback. Trent Dilfer, nobody’s image of an All-Pro, taught us that in 2000 when he hit exactly two passes of any consequence in the Baltimore Ravens’s Super Bowl XXXV win over the Giants.
Even a Super Bowl ring wasn’t enough to convince the Ravens to keep Dilfer around for another year.
Peyton Manning proved to us year after year that finishing at or near the top of the league’s passer ratings doesn’t equate to a stockpile of Lombardi Trophies. MVPs, yes. Four of them. And an All-Decade selection. But just one ring in two appearances for the league’s most prolific passer of this generation.
Teams win championships with defense, and that’s what’s working for the Jets right now. Against Buffalo on Sunday, they held a high-powered, stylish offense and its leading rusher, Fred Jackson, to 287 yards, including 96 yards on the ground. They created two fumbles, recovered one, and picked off a besieged Ryan Fitzpatrick twice.
It would be all well and good had the Jets put the Bills away early; say the first half. They had the chance as Sanchez drove his unit 87 yards to the Bills’ 7 in a defensively-exhausting 15-play, 10-minute march. But he threw an end zone interception.
Four possessions later, the Jets just having taken over near midfield off David Harris’ interception, his fumbled snap on the first play gave it right back to Buffalo.
But in the second half he put things together, converted a turnover into a touchdown, and then put together the Jets’ third prolonged drive to a game-icing touchdown in the fourth quarter.
He took care of the ball. He didn’t make mistakes.
He looked like a real quarterback. A winning quarterback.
Some would say it’s just a function of youth caught amid the growth process. But Sanchez has been a starter since 2009, and one would think that would provide sufficient time for him to find some consistency. Especially now that Rex Ryan has abandoned the force-feeding of the early season designed to turn the Jets into Air-Sanchez.
But this is probably the way it’s going to be for now with Sanchez. Bad half, good half. Bad game, good game.
Just hope that Sanchez can manage the games sufficiently, and allow the defense — the true strength of this team — to do its job.
The Jets can make some noise this year. It’s obvious they’ve come out of their slump. And even if they don’t beat New England Sunday night, there are still plenty of opportunities for victories in the second half of the season.
They just won’t be winning those with a quarterback who has risen to elite status.
Jets fans should be able to live with that, though, as long as they can put up with the agita.
Jets fans, weigh in on Mark Sanchez below.