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Sanchez unlikely hero in Jets' must-win game over Pats

by | CBSSports.com National Columnist
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Read these words carefully because they sound like science fiction but they couldn't be more accurate.

Mark Sanchez outplayed Tom Brady.

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The same Sanchez who has been crucified as a pretty boy punk. The same Sanchez who was called a frontrunner by an ex-New England linebacker. The same Sanchez the Jets coaching staff didn't seem to trust with anything longer than a dump-off pass just one week ago.

The same Sanchez who seemed to have not just his leadership skills questioned but his manhood as well.

That Sanchez. That is the Sanchez who took the Jets on his back and saved their season with a 28-14 thumping of the Patriots at the New Meadowlands Stadium.

The Jets may be a difficult team to like at times. They talk too much and dance too much and prance too much. Braylon Edwards was flagged for a taunting penalty after doing The Dougie Dance (think Urkel, Fred Sanford and Justin Timberlake combined) in the face of a Patriots defender. Edwards had more drops last season than AT&T thus a touch of humility might be in order.

But that's the Jets. Humility is checked at the door, bravado is ordered in extra helpings, even if that gusto isn't yet warranted. The Edwards play epitomizes this team. Jocular, premature, mouthy ... yapping before the job is done.

Nonetheless, this was still an impressive victory and this Jets team is the one many expected to see last week against Baltimore. The win over New England was one of the better regular-season victories of this young regime and it came because of Sanchez.

"You're gonna' get some criticism here," Rex Ryan said of Sanchez playing in New York. "We never stopped believing ... he was on the money with every throw."

Mark Sanchez fuels the Jets in an outing where he avoids turnovers while throwing just nine incomplete passes in 30 attempts. (AP)  
Mark Sanchez fuels the Jets in an outing where he avoids turnovers while throwing just nine incomplete passes in 30 attempts. (AP)  
They may have never stopped believing but the Jets coaches turned Sanchez into a glorified clipboard holder against Baltimore.

That had to change and did. One Jets player said there was a non-confrontational and informal meeting of the minds among key offensive coaches and players this past week. It was decided that Sanchez was indeed being treated far too conservatively and the result was offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer developing a more aggressive (and fluid) game plan.

It paid off. Sanchez had just nine incompletions in 30 attempts and a career-high three touchdowns. Sanchez was visibly more relaxed (during the game he told his teammates to smile more) and he was allowed to take far more shots downfield.

Sanchez and Ryan attempted to downplay that there was any extra pressure on the Jets but that was clearly the case. A loss wouldn't have crippled their season but severely injured it. They couldn't afford to fall to 0-2 while division rivals New England and Miami went to 2-0.

Sanchez said the offense didn't want to try "and kill everything and not try to check everything." He added: "This is how we knew we could play, how I knew I could play."

Sanchez definitely had help and it came from an unusual source -- the normally redoubtable Brady. He was practically unstoppable in the first half, completing 13 of 20 passes for two touchdowns and a 126.9 rating.

The second half saw New York physically attack Brady, and for many of us who've watched Brady closely during his Super Bowl runs, he rarely gets rattled when hit (he's underrated for his toughness). The Jets got to Brady both physically and mentally. You could see it.

Brady felt the pass rush more than he had any rhythm with his receivers.

In the second half he was 7 of 16, sacked once, threw two interceptions and no touchdowns. He finished with a Jake Delhomme-like 72.5 rating. At one point Brady had six consecutive incompletions, which is the most in his career.

"We just sucked," Brady said.

Brady is also usually more analytical.

Dogs and cats living together, man walks on the moon, Sanchez outplays Brady.

Yeah, it happened.

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