Posted November 27, 2011

Mark Sanchez’s up-and-down day good enough against Bills

Buffalo Bills, New York Jets

Mark Sanchez had a big day on the stat sheet Sunday, but his accuracy and decision-making still left something to be desired. (Rich Kane/Icon SMI)

[6-5] Jets 28, [5-6] Bills 24 (box score | recap)

Has there ever been a more underwhelming, utterly bewildering four-touchdown day from a quarterback in NFL history?

More often than not Sunday against the Bills, Mark Sanchez looked out of sorts, missing receivers and making terrible decisions. In the first quarter Sanchez tried to squeeze a pass between four defenders  — a decision CBS analyst Rich Gannon jokingly referred to as trying to beat “four-deep coverage.” Just a few minutes later, out of his own end zone, Sanchez drilled one right into the hands of Buffalo’s Drayton Florence, setting up a Bills touchdown.

More than once, the Jets fans roundly booed Sanchez, their patience for the struggling third-year quarterback rapidly drying up.

Yet, with just a minute left and New York down 24-21 in a game it had to win, there was Sanchez rolling and finding Santonio Holmes for a touchdown — it was Sanchez’s fourth touchdown pass, and this one would wind up standing as the game-winner as Buffalo misfired on several shots to the end zone in the closing seconds.

So, on the one hand, Sanchez beat a division foe and moved his team to 6-5 on a day when the Jets got four touchdown passes from a quarterback for the first time since Brett Favre did so in 2008.

And on the other hand …

At what point do we stop waiting for Sanchez to turn the corner and become one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks? Maybe it is time to just accept him for what he is: A pretty decent player who will go through ups and downs.

His supporters (if there are any left in New York) will point to his back-to-back AFC title game trips, not to mention that the Jets remain very much in this year’s playoff picture.

It’s hard to watch Sanchez play, though, and feel like he’s as good as he should be. That sensation translates over to his team, too. With all these playmakers on both sides of the ball — not to mention a coach who thinks his team is the greatest thing to ever happen to football — should the Jets really be struggling to make the playoffs?

Of course, the Jets’ picture appears much rosier when you compare it to the Bills’ current rut. After a resounding 4-1 start that included wins over Oakland, New England and Philadelphia, Buffalo has seen its wheels come off. Buffalo headed into Sunday’s game losers of three straight and had scored just 26 total points in that stretch.

Credit the banged-up Bills for giving it a solid go Sunday. Had Stevie Johnson, who earlier in the game mocked Plaxico Burress following a touchdown catch by mimicking shooting himself in the leg, hauled in either of the passes Ryan Fitzpatrick threw his way on Buffalo’s final drive, it would have been the Bills walking out of Sunday with a win and a 6-5 record.

In that scenario, the calls for the Jets to make a QB change would have been resoundingly loud — whether in favor of 100-year-old backup Mark Brunell or someone like Matt Barkley or Landry Jones in next year’s draft.

The Jets’ ability to hang on for dear life down the stretch will keep those calls somewhat at bay for the moment. How long, exactly, is up to Sanchez. The Jets’ finishing stretch includes three road games (at Washington, Philadelphia and Miami), plus home games against the Chiefs and Giants.

If the Sanchez who threw four TD passes Sunday — two to Dustin Keller and one each to Plaxico Burress and Holmes — takes the field, the Jets have every opportunity in the world to finish strong and claim an AFC wild-card berth. A few more appearances from Sanchez’s Mr. Hyde side, however, and it’s hard to see this Jets team weathering the storm.

Sanchez was just good enough Sunday to keep New York alive, maybe even good enough to spark some hope heading forward. But for anyone who watched him play against the Bills, it’s just hard to figure out how he did it.

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