EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Different year, same offense. Worked last year, don't know about this year.
Sparked by a rejuvenated LaDainian Tomlinson, who rushed for 86 yards in a 16-11 loss to the Washington Redskins Friday night at New Meadowlands Stadium, the New York Jets have the look of a dynamic running team -- again.
Unfortunately for them, the Mark Sanchez-led passing game has shown no improvement -- at least not based on three preseason games. If anything, Sanchez has regressed, making the same mistakes (read: turnovers) he did in his 20-interception rookie season.
This was supposed to be a souped-up passing attack, with Santonio Holmes joining Jerricho Cotchery and Braylon Edwards to form one of the top receiving trios in the NFL. Problem is, Sanchez still is experiencing those rookie moments.
Sanchez (13-for-21, 139 yards) struggled for the second straight week, throwing a costly red-zone interception that was straight out of 2009. On a third down from the Redskins' 13, he stared down his No. 1 option -- Dustin Keller -- so long that cornerback DeAngelo Hall was able to drop off his man and step in front of the pass to Keller.
"He's not going to be perfect, by any stretch," said Rex Ryan, always careful never to drop the hammer on his young quarterback. "It was a mistake, a costly mistake. It took points off the board, basically."
Sanchez salvaged something from the night, finding Keller for a 10-yard touchdown on his final pass, but that entire drive (15 plays, 72 yards) came against the Redskins' backups. Don't put too much stock in that fourth-quarter score, even though Ryan tried to spin that as the "most important" development in the game.
The bottom line is this: In three games, the Sanchez-led offense has produced only two touchdowns in 18 possessions. The Keller touchdown ended an 0-for-15 drought.
The Jets close the preseason next Thursday in Philadelphia, with the starters expected to play only one series.
"We're not overwhelmingly pleased," said Sanchez, refusing to buy into the suggestion that it's panic-button time.
He's right about that. As bad as it might look in the preseason, it never makes sense to get crazy with concern. After all, the Jets are using vanilla game plans, scaling back on their trademark shifts and motions -- the stuff that really confuses opponents.
But that doesn't mean they get a free pass. In three games, Sanchez (64.6 completion rate) has improved his accuracy, but he has two interceptions that cost the team at least 10 points. His passer rating is 75.9. The latest interception looked like a force into double coverage, reminiscent of last season, but he insisted that wasn't the case.
"I think I just missed," he said. "I think last year I might have been throwing into double coverage. Hall did a good job catching the ball, but I threw it right to him. I just missed Dustin. If he catches it, he might run him over for a touchdown. It's just a bad throw. It happened; it just can't happen in the red zone."
The latest offensive no-show wasn't entirely his fault. Sanchez's two bookend bodyguards, left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson (two holding penalties) and right tackle Damien Woody (one sack), suffered off-nights. That makes two weeks in a row for Ferguson, who signed a six-year, $60 million contract extension in July.
Rookie left guard Vladimir Ducasse, doing what Matt Slauson did last week, suffered a pass-protection hiccup that resulted in Sanchez getting planted into the turf. Defensive end Kedric Golston beat Ducasse and drove Sanchez's right shoulder into the ground on an incompletion.
It was a scary moment. Sanchez said it "felt kind of weird," but he popped up. He said the trainers checked it out "to make sure it was OK. It's fine."
When the pass protection wasn't breaking down, his receivers were coughing up the ball. The Jets blew a potential scoring opportunity when Holmes, in his most extensive action with the starters, got careless with the ball and lost a fumble after a 23-yard reception. It was an excusable mental error, holding the ball in the wrong arm, and it was stripped by an alert Phillip Buchanon.
All this explosive talent on offense, and the Jets can't seem to find the end zone, even with a strong running game. Tomlinson and Shonn Greene combined for 142 yards on the ground, an indication the league-leading rushing attack still has its pop. But the Jets don't want to be one-dimensional.
"We're striving for perfection around here," Woody said. "We expect to be a very good offense. We don't want to be a team this year that's one-sided. There's nothing wrong with what we did last year, but we're striving to be better than that. We want to be balanced."
To get there, the quarterback has to be better.