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The Jets Lost, But Mark Sanchez Didn’t

If the Jets could have gotten the ball back in the fourth quarter last night, if they would have been able to stop Ben Roethlisberger on one of those two third-down passes, if they would have treated the Steelers offense on that drive the way they did the rest of the second half ... do you think they would have scored? With the momentum going the way it was, with the scales tilting in the second half the way they were, it felt like the Jets were gonna come all the way back from that first second-half deficit. If felt like this was how it was gonna end. And it felt that way because of Mark Sanchez.

For all the talk that Sanchez was the Jets' major concern yesterday, no one could possibly blame him for the loss. He wasn't effective when the Jets fell behind 24–3 at halftime — 24–3! We still don't quite believe that — but the whole team was out of sorts. The quarterback is the leader, but he is still just one man, and when a team is as off-kilter as the Jets were in the first half, Sanchez was, save for a couple off-passes, almost as helpless as the rest of us. When you rush for one yard in a half, there's only so much your quarterback can do.

Then, in the second half, he took over, leading three different drives that either were touchdowns, or should have been. (Schottenheimer!) When you compare the quarterback numbers of Sanchez and Roethlisberger yesterday, it's hard to figure which was the winner:

Roethlisberger: 10-of-19, 133 yards, 0 TD, 2 INT
Sanchez: 20-of-33, 233 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT

Sanchez was playing with such confidence in the last quarter that, among the lunatic, despairing but still hopeful Jets fans we were with at Heinz Field yesterday, the general consensus after Sanchez's TD pass to Santonio Holmes was that the Jets were going to win this game. The defense had been dominant — 16–0 in the second half! So close! — and Roethlisberger had been off all game. (It was strange seeing his performance praised so much afterward. His main attribute before that final drive was being able to elude — most — sacks.) Surely, Sanchez would get the ball back, and this ridiculous, amazing season would end in the most ridiculous, amazing way possible.

But Roethlisberger hit on enough passes to run out the clock. And Sanchez never got the chance.

Sanchez still has a ton of work to do, and even at his peak, he'll never be the complete quarterback that Roethlisberger and Aaron Rodgers are. But the Jets have often been winning the last couple of years in spite of him, waiting for him to reach the level they'll ultimately need him to. Yesterday, he almost won in spite of his team. This was only his second year. He may regress. This may be it for him. But we doubt it. It didn't look like it yesterday. It didn't look like he lost. It looked like he just ran out of time.

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Photo: Gregory Shamus/Getty Images