The Jets lost to the Ravens in the 2nd preseason game 24-23 primarily on the strength of two interceptions returned for touchdowns. Both Kellen Clemens and Mark Sanchez were victimized by Haloti Ngata and Jameel McClain. Sanchez ended up 3-8 for 43 yards and a touchdown on his last play to Leon Washington. Clemens was 5-10 for 60 yards and a touchdown.
But that was all Rex Ryan needed to finalize his quarterback decision.
As expected, Mark Sanchez will be the Jets quarterback in 2009. Did he win the job fairly? It's hard to say, but it's certainly safe to say that Clemens did not step up and win it like he needed to and like someone who had three years in the system should have. Clemens threw 12 interceptions to Sanchez's 5 in camp and was outplayed, if not by much, by Sanchez in both games. Sanchez should play into the third quarter against the Giants Saturday night.
Was it the right decision? Probably. Clemens never played like a starter, and while it would be ideal to bring the rookie along slowly given his 10 starts on the college level. You would love him to sit back, learn the offense, and play when he's ready.
However, the Jets offer a good situation for a rookie quarterback to step in to.
Critics look at the lack of experienced receivers, and they do have a valid point. Only David Clowney has stepped up in preseason to show that he could start opposite Jerricho Cotchery, and most of that has been against 2nd and 3rd stringers. Chansi Stuckey has looked good in camp, but he's best suited as a slot receiver, and Brad Smith has yet to seize the opportunity.
But in Dustin Keller, the Jets have a young tight end to work with Sanchez as a safety valve who can develop into more than that. He's not the best blocking tight end in the world, but the Jets offensive line is good enough where Sanchez should get enough time to throw without using the tight end in pass protection. The line is very good and is paid handsomely. Entering their second season as a complete unit will only make it better.
The Jets will ride that line as much as they can, as Sanchez will surely be handing the ball off to Thomas Jones, Leon Washington, and Shonn Greene all the time. Jones can't be expected to lead the AFC in rushing again with a rookie quarterback and no Laveranues Coles, but he should maintain a high level of play. Washington is the most dynamic player in the offense. He's always been a hard worker, but potentially playing for a new contract should only provide him with more motivation. Greene doesn't have a clear path for playing time, but the Jets didn't trade up for him with two backs already on the roster if they planned on burying him all season.
This offense will go as far as the running game takes them. Joe Flacco started 2008 with 1 touchdown and 7 interceptions in his first 5 games. In the Jets first 5 games, they play all playoff contenders, 3 on the road. If Sanchez performs that way, the Jets could be looking at 1-4 or 0-5, and no Rex Ryan speech can make that look good.
Fans, I beg of you to be patient with Sanchez. Even though he's well beyond his years in terms of handling the media and being a charismatic type of leader, he is woefully inexperienced, and rookie quarterbacks typically struggle. Matt Ryan broke the trend last year, but he started four years in college. If Sanchez struggles in year one, do not be alarmed, most rookie quarterbacks start rather poorly. He should show some signs of being the quarterback they drafted in 2010, but it's hard to imagine him living up to the hype until 2011 or 2012. New York often is impatient with its players, but with Sanchez, it would be a shame if he struggled early, lost confidence, and the fans turned on him in the next year or two. He could be a great one. Just don't expect it this year.