BALTIMORE -- There was a little Good, a little Bad and a lot of Ugly, but that's what you get when you start a rookie quarterback -- which is where the New York Jets still seem to be headed after Monday's 24-23 loss to Baltimore.
|On his final pass attempt, Mark Sanchez hits Leon Washington for a 19-yard touchdown. (Getty Images)|
In fact, he looked more like Off the Mark Sanchez, struggling for most of his four series. His first pass was intercepted and returned for a touchdown. His second pass should have been intercepted. He fumbled a handoff. He was sacked. He was chased out of the pocket. He took two delay-of-game penalties. He was kneed in the helmet.
• Recap: Ravens 24, Jets 23
Basically, he looked like someone who was overwhelmed by the moment.
If the Jets wanted to make a decision on their quarterbacks after Monday, they can't. Instead, they should put this one on hold and let Sanchez and Kellen Clemens slug it out against the Giants -- winner take all. Sanchez, their first-round draft pick, is the favorite, but he better handle pressure better than he did against the Ravens.
"You don't know what you're playing against until you actually play against us," said Baltimore linebacker Ray Lewis. "You saw his eyes get big, and he was jumping around in the pocket."
For the record, Jets coach Rex Ryan hasn't made a decision on who's No. 1. But he doesn't have to. If Sanchez and Clemens are close, the job belongs to Sanchez ... and the two are close. It's no secret the Jets want him to win the position, but they should proceed with caution. If Sanchez doesn't look better next weekend than he did against Baltimore they have a dilemma: Do they start him and risk flushing the first half of the season and damaging his psyche, or do they play it safe and go with the veteran for a couple of weeks?
"I'll tell you what I'd do," said one of the Ravens, "I'd start Clemens in the beginning. He made a great throw for a touchdown, and he might not make the mistakes that Sanchez will in the first few weeks. You don't want to damage the kid, and this is about the big picture."
Tell that to Jets fans. They want a playoff team, and they want one now. Sanchez is supposed to be the quarterback who takes them there, and maybe he does. But he must first correct the raft of mistakes that characterized his latest performance.
Having said that, what I liked about what I saw is that he punctuated his evening with an exclamation point, hitting two passes on his last drive -- including a 19-yard TD to Leon Washington on his last attempt. Yes, he wound up completing only 3 of 8 passes for 43 yards, but he did what he had to, which is redeem himself after a nightmare start.
"That's the way you want to respond," Sanchez said, "but [there is] a lot of great film from this, and, obviously, [it is] a great learning experience. It was exciting to play on Monday night, and I just want to get better."
The Jets want him to get better, too, because their future rests with Sanchez. Once, I thought Clemens had a decent chance to open the season because the Jets' first five opponents are tough, because they're returning to a more complicated offense and because Clemens has the experience. But Clemens hasn't done anything to seize the moment, and Monday night was another example.
After Sanchez opened the door, Clemens failed to respond -- throwing an interception on his third delivery that was returned for a touchdown and looking like the inconsistent, incomplete quarterback he's been for the past three seasons. He wasn't all that bad, but he wasn't all that good, either, and he needed to be. While he had a touchdown pass and produced three more points than Sanchez, he also hit Baltimore's Jameel McClain for a touchdown.
Sanchez can do that and get away with it because you know he'll get better. Or, at least, you hope he will. When Clemens commits a gaffe like that it only convinces coaches that he is what he's always been, and that's a quarterback who should sit down -- which he'll do if he doesn't make something happen soon. Someone must make a move here, but nobody has, and that favors Sanchez. If all things are equal, he wins the job.
"I like the way Mark responded," said Ryan. "Everybody makes mistakes and that was a key one obviously. I thought he responded pretty well. It ain't going to be perfect, so sometimes you have these types of nights. You gotta give credit where credit is due, and most of that goes to their defense."
Maybe, except Sanchez sees that defense every day in practice. He should've been ready for it, and he wasn't. Ryan is right. That can happen against the Ravens, and ask Eli Manning. When he started here his rookie season he wound up with a passer rating of 0.0 and a 37-14 loss. But he was better for the experience, and maybe Sanchez will be, too. All I know is that he took his lumps and regained his composure in the nick of time.
"I think if I would've tanked after the pick that would've been a real missed opportunity," Sanchez said. "[That would have made] one mistake a tragedy. It was important to come back and throw a touchdown. I don't think it was a lost opportunity. It was a good way to see how I react to adversity. And I was happy with the way I bounced back."
The Jets should be, too, though I wouldn't end this competition now. I'd keep it going. Sanchez won last week's mano-a-mano with Clemens but slipped a little with Monday's loss. I still think the Jets go with him, but I believe now, more than ever, they need to slow down and wait another week before making up their minds.
Look, we all know Mark Sanchez starts sooner or later. I just want to see him earn the job. And so far he hasn't.