Commentary

Boo! Old Sanchez rears his ugly head

To Rex's horror, Mark's Halloween costume looks a lot like last year's jittery rookie

Updated: November 1, 2010, 12:31 PM ET
By Johnette Howard | ESPNNewYork.com

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- He didn't have the same shell-shocked, someone-shot-my-dog look he often had after losses a year ago. But beyond that, everything about the throwback game that Mark Sanchez hung up Sunday against the Green Bay Packers was familiar.

It was the sort of day Sanchez had hoped he was personally beyond, the kind of rocky performance that left Jets coach Rex Ryan steaming. And it prompted yet another opposing defensive player -- this time Green Bay free safety Nick Collins -- to become the latest opponent to take a shot at the Jets' second-year quarterback as if Sanchez is still on training wheels, and not a guy who can cash in all that talk that the Jets are bona fide Super Bowl contenders.

"I don't think they trusted Sanchez -- their coaching staff," Collins said. "They only had a select few plays that they ran. That's what I saw today."

[+] EnlargeMark Sanchez
John Munson/The Star-Ledger/US PresswireMark Sanchez is sacked by Green Bay's Brandon Chillar during a chilling Halloween performance reminiscent of his rookie season.

The idea that Sanchez is the Jets' weak link has always been the rap and fear about this Jets team that's built to win now. That ball and chain is clamped tightly around Sanchez's ankle again now, until further notice, after his performance in Sunday's error-strewn 9-0 loss to the visiting Packers.

If that postmortem sounds familiar, it's because it was the same formula that often took down the Jets in Sanchez's rookie year, and again in their 10-9 season-opening loss to Baltimore.

The Jets' defense was terrific again against the Packers and their All-Pro quarterback, Aaron Rodgers. As bad as the Jets' offense was, they still only trailed 6-0 until there were just 27 seconds left to play. All they needed was one touchdown -- one lousy score -- and all those passes that Sanchez had sailed high or low or long, all the drops by Jerricho Cotchery, Shonn Greene and Santonio Holmes on top of the drive-killing penalties the offense committed would all be overcome, if not totally forgotten.

Yet Sanchez -- who finished 16-for-38 for 256 yards with two interceptions -- couldn't get it done despite strong protection all day from his offensive line. The Jets are 5-2, but there's a pattern here: They haven't scored a TD in either loss, and are averaging only 4.5 points in those defeats.

As usual, no one was as hard on Sanchez afterward as Sanchez.

"Poor job on my part," he began. "The defense is keeping us in the game and at the end, we have to win that game. In some way, shape or form, we have to win that game."

Asked if he could remember the last time he had started a game in which his team had been shut out, Sanchez whistled softly, paused a few seconds, and then finally said, "No, I can't. I cannot. It's not a good thing. … For every dropped ball today there were twice as many poor throws on my part."

So don't be fooled by the fact the Jets finished with a reasonable 360 yards of total offense. And don't take much solace, either, in the fact that this Jets loss came against a Packers team that was many people's preseason favorite to be the NFC's representative in the Super Bowl this year. The Packers team that prompted those projections had running back Ryan Grant, wideout Donald Driver and a healthy defensive line -- all things the Packers team that showed up Sunday did not have once Driver, the last of those Packers mainstays to go missing, limped off with a quadriceps injury before the end of the first half.

But there are still other reasons this loss especially stings for the Jets. The Jets were coming off a bye week. They were riding a five-game winning streak. But now, their loss, combined with New England's win over Minnesota on Sunday, drops them back to second place in the AFC East, a game behind the Pats.

The Jets had also spoken buoyantly all week about their plan to finally get Holmes more involved in the offense, and how having cornerback Darrelle Revis and linebacker Calvin Pace back at 100 percent would open up even more options for the defense. They saw themselves as a team ready to take off.

Though Revis and Pace held up fine, Holmes (two drops along with his three catches for 43 yards Sunday) is still waiting for his first breakout game as Jet. After the game he sat at his locker with his head in his hands.

Ryan might have had a feeling this kind of clunker from Sanchez was coming when he publicly tweaked his quarterback midweek, saying he didn't like the way Sanchez was indecisive and "bailing out" out of the pocket in the Jets' last-minute win over Denver two weeks ago. So much for a win is a win. And Sanchez, when told of Ryan's remarks, had promised he would clean all that up come Sunday.

Instead, what the Jets got was the sort of performance from Sanchez that made one of the oldest adages going in the NFL -- that oft-stated bromide that defense wins championships -- look like a lie.

Once again, this Jets team looked like a squad that will only go as far as Sanchez takes them -- or doesn't.

Johnette Howard is a columnist for ESPNNewYork.com. You can follow her on Twitter.

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