Jets quarterback Sanchez has excelled late in games this season, displaying decision-making abilities beyond his years in thrilling final-drive wins against the Lions, Texans, and Browns. While Sanchez’s greatest skill is throwing quick, timing-dependent passes, he’s made some of his best plays of the year on intermediate-length throws to the middle of the field—like the 52-yard pass to wide receiver Santonio Holmes, diagrammed to the right, that set up a game-winning field goal against the Lions. Holmes ran a “dig” pattern, sprinting straight ahead for fifteen yards before suddenly cutting right. This kind of midrange route can be tough for a young QB to handle—unlike short passes or bombs that he knows he’s going to throw before the ball is snapped, the intermediate-passing game requires him to let the play develop and observe what the defense is doing before deciding where to throw. Here, Sanchez waited patiently for Holmes to make his move despite defensive pressure, jumping forward in the pocket to avoid a Lions lineman. (Analyst Bill Barnwell of the website Football Outsiders cites Sanchez’s quickness—for a quarterback, he’s quite elusive—as a major strength.) He pump-faked to the right side of the field to throw defenders off Holmes’s scent, then turned and hit the receiver in stride. The speedy Holmes kept on running all the way to the Lions’ sixteen. Says Barnwell: “It had to be in exactly the right spot to make it a big play. And it was perfect.”
Despite his low-key reputation, Giants quarterback Manning is one of the best in the game at throwing the crowd-pleasing, roar-inducing long bomb; this season, only two other quarterbacks in the league have completed more passes of twenty yards or longer. The Giants particularly like to use their powerful running backs as decoys to set up Manning’s downfield game, as they did in the play diagrammed to the right, a fourth-quarter pass that went for a touchdown in a recent contest against the Jaguars. Manning faked a handoff to Brandon Jacobs—who was in the midst of a day on which he’d average more than six yards a carry. The fake kept defenders frozen for a split second before they moved back to defend against the pass. Crucially, the Jaguars’ deep safety was late breaking toward wide receiver Mario Manningham, who was streaking down the left sideline. Manning kept his eyes toward the center of the field to avoid tipping his hand, then hit Manningham with a 22-yard pass, dropped perfectly into the spot between the cornerback he’d burst past and the safety who had belatedly figured out what was happening. “Manning doesn’t necessarily have the biggest arm, but he’s gotten very good at placing the ball exactly where he wants it, even on throws 20 or 30 yards downfield,” says Barnwell. Barnwell points out that on this play some quarterbacks might have gotten excited when Manningham broke open and tried to throw a longer pass all the way into the end zone, exposing the receiver to a ball-jarring hit by the now-oncoming safety. But Manning stayed calm and got the ball to Manningham quickly, leaving the wideout time to make the catch before advancing upfield past the Jaguar safety: touchdown Giants. They’d tie the game on the ensuing two-point conversion and go on to win 24–20.