By Ernie Palladino
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Mark Sanchez hasn’t looked great in two preseason games.
Geno Smith failed to impress in his short appearance in the first, and then was inactive for the second, leaving everyone eager to see if Sanchez would seize the chance to slam the door shut on this open quarterback competition.
He didn’t, of course. But that’s not the takeaway from the first half of the exhibition season. It’s that Rex Ryan isn’t comfortable with the quarterback he’ll most likely go to battle with for at least the first month of the season.
That would be Sanchez. And it goes far deeper than the two bad interceptions he’s thrown so far. If it were just those two instances, Ryan would have no trouble installing his confidence-challenged incumbent in the starting role — anoint him straight out, right now, without qualification.
Sanchez threw away one opportunity against the Jaguars with an end-zone interception and another by failing to get the first-team offense across the goal line, and Ryan is still waiting to see how this all shakes out.
It’s as if Smith’s ailing ankle coming back to full strength is going to give the rookie thrower the wisdom to lead the offense from the get-go. He has already shown his capacity for fallibility with that “brutal” practice, as Ryan called it, in the middle of last week. As plucky as Smith may have been despite the ankle sprain, that’s how desperate Ryan appears to be to find any other option than Sanchez to start the regular season.
The picks are just part of it. For one thing, it’s only preseason. Every team in the NFL is still working out the kinks in the playbook. Routes aren’t necessarily as complex as the regular season. Defensive backs take more risks than they would in the regular season. Things happen.
Besides, Sanchez’s botched screen pass that the Lions’ Ezekiel Ansah returned for a touchdown and the end-zone throw to Kellen Winslow, Jr. that Marcus Trufant grabbed Saturday night were nothing new in these parts. A two-time Super Bowl MVP who also plays at MetLife Stadium turned red zone and end-zone interceptions into an art form in 2006. He’s still been known to goof up like that, though on fewer occasions.
But Eli Manning was never in danger of losing his job. Through all his troubles, upper management and Tom Coughlin preached patience to the Giants’ faithful, and were rewarded when the bad picks went down, the comebacks piled up and the two Lombardi Trophies took their places in the Quest Diagnostic Training Center’s lobby showcase.
Manning does have one thing Sanchez doesn’t — the ability to shake off mistakes, no matter how disastrous. The staff’s continued and steadfast confidence in him springs forth from that as much as his passing accomplishments. It’s easy to get behind that kind of quarterback.
With Sanchez? Not so much. But it’s certainly necessary. Sometime between now and the Giants’ game Saturday, Ryan and general manager John Idzik need to dig within themselves and find something about Sanchez that allows them to commit to him as the Jets’ starter. Smith won’t be ready. And any wavering about Sanchez will hurt his already fragile ego needlessly.
Ryan, in particular, needs to look past the failed drives and try to reinforce the good things, like the two scoring drives he did engineer at the beginning of the Jaguars game.
Be content with that. Take Sanchez, flawed as he may be, and solve this quarterback puzzle ASAP.
Name him your starter. Smith will be there for the future, whether that arrives in October or midseason, or in 2014.
If Ryan is lucky, Sanchez will provide the comfort as the season goes on. But if the coach is looking for that easy chair now, he’ll only find a hard straight-back seat instead. He may have to content himself with that.
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