Monday, October 5, 2009

Rookie Sanchez plays like one in loss to Saints

It was just a matter of time before Mark Sanchez lost a game for the Jets. On a day where the New York defense held Drew Brees to no touchdown passes and less than 200 yards through the air, it was Sanchez's mistakes that allowed the Saints to put points on the scoreboard.

New Orleans came into the game with the second-highest blitz percentage on defense, second to only the Jets. They stacked eight men in the box and forced Sanchez to make quick decisions against the blitz, which he was unable to do successfully.

With the Jets driving deep in Saints territory in the second quarter, Sanchez lost track of safety Darren Sharper on a play-action pass and telegraphed a throw to Dustin Keller near the goalline. Sharper jumped the route and took it 99 yards to the house for his 10th career touchdown on an interception return, second all-time behind Rod Woodson, who has 12.

After a Jets three-and-out, the Saints drove 64 yards down to the New York one-yard-line and it looked like they were going to take a commanding three-possession lead. But the Jets defense stuffed Pierre Thomas and Heath Evans on first and second downs and forced two Brees incompletions to get the ball back and keep the Saints' lead at 10.

But just two plays later, Sanchez rolled right and didn't protect the ball, allowing Will Smith to beat D'Brickashaw Ferguson around the corner and knock the ball in the air. The Saints recovered in the endzone and, after being stuffed at the goalline, took a 17-0 lead after all.

Despite his early mistakes, Sanchez kept his poise in leading a 14-play, 60-yard drive on the next possession to set up a Jay Feely field goal and take the Jets into the half down 17-3.

A Reggie Bush fumble early in the third quarter gave the Jets the ball at the New Orleans 34 and, four plays later, a 15-yard run from Thomas Jones brought the Jets within a touchdown at 17-10. But from that point on, it was all Saints.

New Orleans ran 29 plays over the final quarter-and-a-half, compared to just 12 for the Jets. After an 11-play, 74-yard drive culminated in a Pierre Thomas touchdown run, the Saints picked off Sanchez twice more, including Sharper's second interception of the game and his league-leading fifth of the season to seal the win with just over a minute to play.

Sharper has been a huge addition to the Saints defense this season, as they have forced a league-leading 13 turnovers (10 interceptions, three fumble recoveries). New Orleans has not trailed yet this season and has forced teams to become one-dimensional, allowing their pass rushers to go to work and their secondary to make big plays. Add in a top-10 rush defense that allows just 3.7 yards-per-carry and you can see why the Saints are 4-0.

Sanchez finished 14-for-27 for 138 yards and three interceptions in his worst game as a pro. He was just 7-for-18 with two interceptions when New Orleans put eight or more defenders in the box, while going 7-for-9 when the Saints backed off.

Through three games Sanchez looked as poised as can be, but a few crucial mistakes cost him and the Jets this weekend. Despite those mistakes, Sanchez was able to keep his composure and lead the Jets downfield a few times, showing a short memory that is a very good sign for a young quarterback.

The Jets will only get better from this point on, as the return of outside linebacker Calvin Pace from a performance-enhancer suspension should bolster what has been an average run defense to this point. With a soft upcoming schedule that includes Miami twice, Buffalo and Oakland before their Week 9 bye, the Jets have an outside shot at a 7-1 start.

Meanwhile, the Saints will enjoy this win on their bye week and prepare to play another undefeated team from the New York, the 4-0 Giants, who will most likely be 5-0 after a showdown with the Raiders this weekend.


-Rookie running back Shonn Greene received his first four carries of the season, running for 23 yards. Many people, including myself, thought Greene would get a few carries every game to spell Jones and Washington. But his carries this week seemed to come at the expense of Washington, who had just four carries himself compared to 13 for Thomas Jones.

-Jerricho Cotchery has had at least four catches and 71 yards in each game this season, putting him fifth in the NFL in receiving yards with 356. His rapport with Sanchez has been impressive and with the Jets lack of top-notch receiving options, Cotchery seems poised for a career season. He should easily surpass his career high of 1130 receiving yards set two seasons ago.

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