The sky was falling. Darrelle Revis came up hamstrung on a Randy Moss touchdown catch and wasn’t going to be available for the second half. Rex Ryan and his Jets appeared headed for Grievous Island. But Mark Sanchez (21-for-30, 220 yards, three TDs) wouldn’t let the sky fall.
The mettle of the young quarterback was tested yesterday, in a way that only New York can test you. The Jets’ history is littered with quarterbacks who would have buckled and crumbled under a searing microscope that spares no one and nothing, and stayed down in the face of bloodthirsty doomsayers and naysayers.
SAN-SATIONAL: Mark Sanchez celebrates his third-quarter touchdown pass to Jerricho Cotchery.
Not this kid. Not this quarterback. Who only went eyeball-to-eyeball with Tom Brady and Bill Belichick and did not blink. Who only outplayed Brady and led the Jets to their 28-14 win over the Patriots.
Who only stranded Brady and Belichick on Sanchez Island. Of course he had help. Ryan fueled his defense with belief it could shut out Brady without Revis. Braylon Edwards awakened with a vengeance and maybe gave pause to Joe Namath, who derided him this week.
LaDainian Tomlinson looked forever young. Dustin Keller looked like Dallas Clark. But it was Sanchez who lifted his game and lifted his team in its most desperate hour. “This guy’s more confident than I am, which is saying something,” Ryan said on the podium in the interview room and in the corner, behind him and to his left, you could see Sanchez smiling beneath the eyeblack. “You gotta have broad shoulders, especially in this media market. “We got the right guy pulling the trigger for us.” The moral of the story: If you believe you have the right guy pulling the trigger for you, then let him pull it.
Don’t reduce him to a gunshy scaredy cat. Let him play. Because when he plays like this, he can beat Brady and Belichick. With his legs, with his head, and with his arm. If Sanchez (a 124.3 quarterback rating) and playcaller Brian Schottenheimer can bottle the kind of telepathy they enjoyed yesterday, then the Super Bowl is no pipe dream. “This is exactly the way we knew how to play, the way I knew I could play,” Sanchez said.
Sanchez stepped up into his critical leadership role once he was done watching Brady keep the ball for most of the first quarter. “I told guys, after the first drive of the game to ‘smile, have a little fun,’ ya know?” he said. “ ‘Get animated out here. We’re grown men, but we’re playing a kid’s game. Be smart, but have fun.’ “
Keller placed both hands over his eyes, making like he was looking through binoculars: “He kept on going like this, putting his hands over his eyes, telling guys, ‘Focus. Focus on the play at hand.’ ”
After Moss plucked his 34-yard TD pass out of the air with his right hand, Sanchez, from his 20 with 53 seconds left in the half, engineered a psychologically important field-goal drive in large part thanks to a 22-yard bullet over the middle to Keller.
But then Gerard Warren greeted Sanchez on the first play of the second half with a sack that left him wobbly and doubled over in pain. “He readjusted my back,” Sanchez said, and laughed. He wasn’t leaving the game. “He’s a tough guy,” Keller said. “He came back strong.” On third-and-1, Sanchez bootlegged left, clear sailing to the first down. Except when he looked downfield, he saw Keller past Darius Butler. It went for 39 yards and soon there was another Nick Folk field goal and it was 14-13. “I told the guys, ‘There’s nothing that can stop us, there’s nothing that can stop us from getting first downs.’ That’s the way we gotta think,” Sanchez said.
Then he promptly directed touchdown drives of 70 and 63 yards in crunch time. A 2-yard TD pass to Jerricho Cotchery, followed by a premature two-point conversion to Edwards, followed by a 1-yard TD pass to Keller. “When he gets in a groove, it’s scary,” Cotchery said. Why? “ ‘Cause he hits everything. He’s gonna be on the mark — pun intended.” Then Cotchery cracked up. On the mark.
On Sanchez Island.