Oh, what a night!
Sure it was preseason, but don't tell that to the New York Jets, who put on one heck of a show in their annual end of summer clash with the New York Giants.
Coming into the game, the Jets needed to give Mark Sanchez some much needed reps, and in return, receive some positive results after last week's debacle in Baltimore; positive results are exactly what they got and more.
Unlike last week when Sanchez looked lost in the world of Ray Lewis and the blitz-happy Baltimore Ravens defense, Sanchez withstood the blitz tonight from the Giants and delivered a veteran-like performance, going 13-for-20 for 149 yards and a touchdown.
In the second quarter, with the Giants on top 13-7, the Jets had the ball at their own 38 yard line facing a second and 10. Sanchez rolled to his left, avoided the pass rush and drilled the football to a wide open Chansi Stuckey for a 29-yard gain to the Giants 31 yard line.
Two plays, later, Sanchez rolled right into the blitz; with Osi Umineyoria and Fred Robbins bearing down on Sanchez, the rookie heaved the ball down the sideline to Stuckey, who made the catch, re-established himself inbounds, and dashed into the end zone to give the Jets a 14-13 lead.
Most of time it is ill advised for a quarterback to heave the ball up under such pressure, but the play displayed two things: 1) Sanchez has enough poise to make a quick read and decision on a broken play, and 2) his accuracy is really good. It takes a very strong arm to get rid of a football accurately under such duress, and Sanchez passed the test with flying colors.
From there Sanchez seemed to be in a groove. Standing in the pocket, Sanchez delivered a couple of strikes; one, a nine-yard pass to Jerricho Cotchery to move the chains.
Later, Sanchez delievered a laser to Cotchery in the end zone that hit the receiver in the numbers while he was double covered. Cotchery dropped the touchdown, but the message that Sanchez and Jets wanted to send was load and clear.
Defensively, the Jets got stronger as the night wore on.
Even though they never sacked quarterback Eli Manning, they put so much pressure on his receivers in tight bump-and-run coverage that it probably contributed to the series of drops and overthrows for the Giants offense all night.
The Jets new 46 Defense was so fast to the football on many different occasions that it was hard for any Giants offensive player to make adjustments in space, as they were tackled as soon as the football got to him.
As for the Giants, they continued to struggle offensively. Eli Manning continues to have timing issues with his receivers; it doesn't help build chemistry either when just about everyone in a blue jersey is dropping the football.
Late in the first quarter, Steve Smith was wide open down the middle of the field, Manning hit him in stride. It would have been an easy 85-yard touchdown pass, but Smith dropped the football once it landed in his hands.
Next, Manning's pass was tipped and bobbled by Dominik Hixon, instead landing in the hands of Jets linebacker David Harris to set up the Jets first scoring drive of the evening.
Overall Manning was 9-for-21 for 92 yards, a touchdown and an interception. The stats lie because a lot of Manning's incompletions were not his fault.
Defensively, the Giants got some pressure on Sanchez, but without Chris Canty, Antonio Pierce, Michael Boley, and Jay Alford, the Giants pass rush seemed to miss something.
Also, it appeared that the Jets took full advantage of the absence of corner back Aaron Ross, as Jet receivers were open all night long to make one big play after another.
The only positive the Giants could take out of the night was the play of David Carr and Hakeem Nicks. Even though it was against the Jets second string defense, the pair almost brought the Giants back from a 20-13 deficit to win the game.
Carr's 22 yard pass to Nicks in the corner of the end zone brought Big Blue to within 20-19. Later, Carr connected with Nicks, again, on a 71-yard touchdown down the sideline to cut the Jets lead to 27-25. The Giants failed to convert on two different two-point conversion plays costing them the ball game.
WHAT THE JETS CAN TAKE FROM THIS WIN: Their offense may be better than advertised. With Sanchez's ability to scramble, combined with the speed of the Jets receivers, the Jets could create many matchup problems for opposing defenses.
A deceptive offense is very hard to scheme for, and if an opposing defense has trouble discerning when Sanchez is going to get rid of the football, it will likely leave a man wide open for Sanchez to connect with, like it did tonight with Stuckey. Speed kills, especially in the NFL.
That being said, the Jets have to remember that they faced a beat up Giants defense. In a couple of weeks the bullets will be flying for real at Sanchez, so how he adjusts to the speed of a regular season game, and how he readjusts to the adjustments different teams will make in defending him and the Jets offense will go a long way in telling the tale about this rookie quarterback.
The big conundrum for the Jets: penalties. They committed 12 penalties in this game, 10 of which came in the first half.
The Jets had a lot of stupid penalties that killed them tonight. For example, deep in their own territory on a third and five, Sanchez dumped the ball off to Leon Washington, who dashed for the first down, but guard Brandon Moore was called for a 10-yard holding penalty, killing the drive.
Also, Lito Shepard was called for three pass interference calls, one of which cost the Jets 31 yards to help the Giants set up a cheap shot field goal to take a 10-7 lead in the first quarter. If the Jets don't discipline themselves, they are going to penalize themselves into a loss at some point this year.
WHAT THE GIANTS CAN TAKE FROM THE LOSS: They need more work. A lot more work, especially in the passing game.
With the Redskins and Cowboys waiting to play the Giants in the near future, the Giants have got to get their receiver situation figured out. Unfortunately the Giants have run out of preseason games to fix this problem, since the starters won't play the fourth preseason game against their Super Bowl XLII rival, the New England Patriots.
If Eli Manning cannot get on the same page with Hixon, Nicks and Smith, this Giants team is going to be in big trouble. Hakeem Nicks displayed his astute ability to become a game-breaking receiver with his two touchdowns late in the game, but, that was when Manning was out of the game. Continuity between Manning and Nicks will be key to this 2009 campaign.
Defensively, the Giants need everyone to get healthy in a hurry, especially at linebacker. The Giants can rush the passer better than any team in the league, but they need their backers and corners healthy and ready to go in order to cause turnovers, and break up any desperate passes from opposing quarterbacks.
With three preseason games now in the books, it is time to get ready for the regular season. Bring it on!