By Jeff Capellini, WFAN.com
NEW YORK (WFAN) — In the aftermath of a win that sure felt like a loss, the Jets have been left with one indisputable truth.
This is now Mark Sanchez’s team.
Chaos rules the land, even more than we are all used to. The season-ending injury to Darrelle Revis has shifted the power of perception and reality among the 53 men that wear the green and white. While Revis is without question still the Jets’ best player, he won’t be around to help this team confound its critics. And since this so-called “top tier” or “elite” defense struggled a lot to live up to the hype with Revis, it is certainly going to be up against it without him.
It is now Sanchez’s time, regardless if he likes it or not.
Forever content to just be a good teammate and to try to do his job to the best of his abilities, Sanchez has now been thrust into a serious leadership role, a job offer that is just an offer in name. He must live up to the “Sanchise” billing, because there simply is no one else who can step in and not only lead by example, but also reach his true potential. Sanchez has yet to reach his ceiling, but you can pretty much say with a precise degree of certainty that the rest of the Jets are who they are as individuals. While they do have some talents who will only get better — guys like Jeremy Kerley and Stephen Hill come to mind on the offensive side of the ball and Muhammad Wilkerson and a few others on the defensive side, you pretty much know what they are right now.
We still, still, don’t know what Sanchez is — and we’re in Year 4.
Is he the deer-in-headlights check-down artist who struggles at times to even play to the scoreboard, or is he the guy who seizes moments, as he did late in Sunday’s overtime win over Miami, even after the Jets’ defense spit the bit on the Dolphins’ game-tying drive?
We need to know and we need to know now. The Jets’ season, despite their 2-1 record and tenuous hold on first place in the AFC East, depends on him — and likely him alone.
I say this because Santonio Holmes, a player who showed Sunday he’s still every bit a premier wide receiver in this league when the ball is thrown his way, can’t do it unless, obviously, the ball is continuously thrown his way.
The Jets, a team that swore before God and sonny Jesus that it would employ a brutally physical running attack, basically have no running attack. While you could feel a bit better about it due to Bilal Powell’s surprising showing in key spots against the Dolphins, the Jets’ ground game meal ticket, Shonn Greene, is simply not getting it done. Greene’s problems, or better yet his putrid 52 yards-per-game and 3.0-per-carry averages, are not entirely his fault. While he’s simply not anything resembling a premier running back in this league, he should still be good enough for 4 yards a pop, but he hasn’t been because the Jets’ run-blocking has been lackluster at best.
Tim Tebow you ask? Well, it’s clear to me now that the Jets are either extremely stubborn or — and I’m looking at you offensive coordinator Tony Sparano — have no feel for what he’s capable of. The Jets found themselves in 1st-and-goal situations a few times on Sunday, but rather than give Tebow the ball with the opportunity to do what he does best, the Jets instead gave the ball to Greene or had Sanchez loft up prayers — each time, as we saw, with no hope of actually ending up as six points instead of the eventual three or a turnover.
Do you still think the Jets’ defense will keep them in games? This unit has allowed 75 points in three weeks. Ryan Tannehill, he of the rookie quarterback variety that is usually prone to turnovers, was barely touched let alone sacked. The one time Tannehill made a mistake it wasn’t because he had a hand in his face. LaRon Landry’s pick-6 in the third quarter was simply an incredible read by the Jets’ safety after Miami’s quarterback had rolled out of the pocket.
Now with Revis assuming the role of the NFL’s most skilled cheerleader, what are you expecting exactly? At best without the pass rush the Jets were a bend-but-don’t-break unit. Now, without sacks and no Revis you’re looking at potentially bend, eventually break and pray the offense puts up 30 every week.
Hence why Sanchez is now the ballgame.
The good news here is the Jets’ offensive line has pass protected quite well so far. Sanchez has been sacked just three times in three games, with two coming against Pittsburgh’s vaunted defense two weeks ago. Sanchez stepped up late Sunday, driving the Jets from seven points down at the start of the fourth quarter to up three with 3:01 to play. Then, after the defense did its thing and allowed the game to be tied in the final minute and then nearly won early in overtime, he moved the Jets again, engineering a five-play, 47-yard drive, highlighted by a beautiful hookup with Holmes down the left sideline that eventually set up Nick Folk’s game-winning 33-yard field goal.
Sanchez now has no choice but to bottle his proven — yes, it has been proven time and again throughout his three-plus years in the NFL — fourth-quarter prowess and use it for 60 minutes, mostly because you can’t trust the Jets’ running game or the coaching staff’s use of Tebow. From a Jets standpoint, they have to hope Dustin Keller returns to action soon because the tight end would change the dynamic of Sanchez’s approach. Instead of hoping and praying these young receivers finally figure out how to break free in press coverage, Sanchez can get back to using his safety valve. And if so, Holmes, who is coming off his first 100-yard receiving game in ages, will only have more room to roam.
Sanchez simply can’t be a quarterback who throws up a 78 rating and completes just 50 percent of his passes, as is the case currently and has pretty much been the reveal on his resume throughout his regular season career. We know he ratchets up his game in the playoffs, but the Jets have to get there first.
The next two weeks figure to be a brutal assault on the Jets fans’ senses. San Francisco, which has for my money the best defense in the league, will come to MetLife this week off a bad loss in Minnesota, and Houston, which is currently 3-0 and pretty much unstoppable on offense, will be here the week after. Would it be asking too much of the Jets to split? Probably. But they will likely get blown out of the building each time if Sanchez doesn’t show up, grab the reins and make this team his.
He has no choice now. Reinforcements aren’t coming, or if they are they won’t come close to rivaling what Revis is or what Jets truly need at the skill positions. And just in case you are holding out hope, Mr. Miyagi is not going to heal Revis with that thing that he does.
It’s Sanchez or bust. The question is what’s he prepared to do about it?
Read more columns by Jeff Capellini and follow him on Twitter at @GreenLanternJet
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