Broncos, Tebow Stun Jets, 17-13: Post-game Breakdown

The Jets are not mathematically eliminated so there’s still a chance, right?

They needed this game in the worst way. They are more talented than the Broncos, they were one down in the wild card race, and they just didn’t do it.

The defense couldn’t stop Tebow on a 95 yard, fourth quarter, game winning drive after not letting him do anything all game. Literally. When was the last time the Jets forced so many three and outs? The final drive started with Leonhard just missing Eddie Royal in the Broncos’ own end zone for the safety  and possession and ended with a 20 yard Tebow touchdown run when the Jets all out blitzed and missed.

There were two fumbles – one on the goal line by rookie Bilal Powell in his first game, which lineman Matt Slauson picked up and stepped over the line for a touchdown, and then one by Joe McKnight on a return and a good runback that they didn’t recover. Powell gets a pass because this was his first game ever. And sure, the Broncos didn’t turn McKnight’s fumble into anything, but that would have been a decent shot for the Jets after Mark Sanchez threw a pick six the play before (we’ll come back to Sanchez). The special teams had a bad night, giving up a 67 yard return. TJ Conley put up a 13 yard punt that led to a field goal. Nick Folk missed two pretty long field goals.

The offensive line wasn’t great. Sanchez was sacked three times, was hurried at least eight times, and hit at least three times. Right tackle Wayne Hunter, who's having an average season at best, was lit up by rookie Von Miller, allowing 1.5 sacks, two QB hits, and one hurry (according to ESPN). It should be noted that Miller hit Sanchez late at least once and maybe twice, without getting flagged, and should be fined for it by the NFL. Shonn Greene was injured early and didn’t return, leaving McKnight as the team’s main running back, so the running game was anemic. There was some kind of screw up between Sanchez and McKnight where neither caught the snap and Sanchez had to run and recover the fumble. That resulted in a punt on 4th and 27.

There are built in excuses for this game. Patriots hangover, short week, no prep time, Denver’s thin air, Tomlinson and Kerley out, whatever.

But the Jets still should have won. Michael Kay said on his radio show Wednesday afternoon that if the Jets lost this game, it’s because they just weren’t good enough.

They weren’t. They aren’t. Their playoff hopes, even for a wild card, are now in serious jeopardy when one week ago, they were right on the edge of taking the division. Yeah, the Jets could theoretically go 11-5. The talent is there and the schedule isn’t difficult, but the team that has shown up to these last two games is not going to run the table. The quarterback that has shown up is not going to win games the way he’s currently performing.

[caption id="attachment_336" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Mark Sanchez (6) and Tim Tebow (15). Photo by Barry Gutierrez // the AP."][/caption]

Before the Jets beat the Bills, I wrote an article sticking up for Mark Sanchez, because I felt he was getting a raw deal. I was doing it before it was cool, before the win against Buffalo and during the bye week when nobody was sold on the Jets. Even in the bad loss to New England, Sanchez probably got more blame than he deserved.

But in this game, with LT already out, Greene going down early and the running game on the shoulders of Joe McKnight and a rookie in his first ever professional game, Mark Sanchez was literally the last line of offense. He had to be the man, and he just wasn’t that guy.

For the second game in a row, he threw the pick six. He didn’t convert on third down. He was inaccurate. He was completely uninspiring. If the Jets are ever going to win anything, they might have to do it without Mark Sanchez, because in what was supposed to be his breakout year, he’s been nothing but average and sometimes, flat out bad.

But then, thinking back, you have to blame the play calling and the offensive system too. Before Tebow’s drive – just about the only one he had – the Jets ended up with a 3rd and 14. The play call? Handoff. That’s not playing to win, that’s playing not to lose. It’s something offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer does, and I don’t really remember any time it’s ever done the Jets any good.

At the end of the first half, the Jets preferred to let Folk attempt a 61 yard field goal than let Sanchez hurl the ball towards the end zone. There were 5 seconds left in the half. Even if the Broncos pick it off deep in their own territory, chances are good they won’t get back down the field without getting tackled before the clock runs out.

Ray Lucas pointed out in the post game that Santonio Holmes is a vertical receiver. Did the Jets throw any vertical passes? Is there any reason for Joe McKnight to lead the team in receptions after the game is over when you have both Holmes and Plaxico Burress on this team?

The receivers didn’t do a great job of getting open, and Sanchez didn’t do a great job getting them the ball. But it frequently feels like the play calling never plays to the strengths of guys on the system. They never let Sanchez just throw the ball down the field, or on long third downs, and almost never let him make a Hail Mary pass.

He does well on a team with a good running game, but when there’s no running game, at least let him lose on the merit of his arm, not handoff the ball because you’re afraid that he’ll lose the game for you. He hasn’t proven much, but he hasn’t really been given the opportunities either and now you've almost got nothing to lose.

After the game, Rex Ryan has said that Sanchez is the QB as long as he’s here, and that’s probably at least one season more (since both Ryan and Sanchez have more wins than losses), but it’s evident now that the Jets need a new backup quarterback for two reasons.

First, there was one moment where it looked like Sanchez might have been injured, and Mark Brunell is not going to be able to carry the team for any long period of time. No offense to Brunell, but he’s about 200 in football years. He’s an option for a series, not a whole game.

Second, the Jets need someone who can seriously challenge Sanchez for his job. Nothing will motivate Sanchez to improve like a threat to his position. Maybe next year that will be Greg McElroy, who was placed on the IR after he broke his hand earlier this year. If not, they need to bring someone new to the roster.

But for now, they need to trust Sanchez. It’s time Ryan tells Schottenheimer to let Sanchez throw the football whether it’s part of the scheme or not. Sanchez hasn’t done well lately, but with a lot of the pressure off now that the playoffs are almost out of reach, it’s time to let him throw. No more 4 yard passes up the middle. No more handoffs on third and long. Put the ball in the hands of the guy you drafted and let him win or lose games with his arm. See what works and what doesn’t, and ride him until the end.

Denver trusted Tim Tebow more than New York trusted Mark Sanchez in this last game, and there’s something incredibly pathetic about that. Why do you trade up to draft Sanchez, why do you sign Holmes and Burress, why do you say Sanchez is “your guy” if you don’t trust to him to get the job done?

Saying he's your guy, if you don't trust him, is not fair to Sanchez,  it’s not fair to the rest of the team, and it’s not fair to the fans who deserve to be rewarded for their patience and faith in both the Jets organization and its 25 year old quarterback.

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