Sanchez and the Jets find beauty in a hideous win

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Sanchez hands off. (nfl.com)
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Yesterday’s plodding, mistake-filled Jets victory over the Miami Dolphins provided a good illustration of the perception gap between players and the reporters who cover them.

For the players, it was the type of ugly win that shows the heart of a champion. For the pundits, it was the type of ugly win that shows a team’s weaknesses.

Chief among these weaknesses, for the Jets, was Mark Sanchez, who had his second poor game in a row. Sanchez threw two interceptions during regulation, two near-interceptions during overtime, and badly missed wide-open receivers on potential touchdowns three times.

If his strong Week 1 performance against Buffalo provided compelling evidence that his badness was overstated and that his career was on an upward trajectory, his subsequent two games suggested that he’s still a mediocre-to-poor quarterback.

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Another sour note: cornerback Darrelle Revis “probably” tore his ACL, according to the latest information.  If that news is confirmed, any hope of a repeat of the 2009 season, when the dominant Revis-led defense enabled to overcome the offense's limitations, would seem to be snuffed out. (In 2010, the Jets’ defense was less dominant, and the Sanchez-led offense was close to average.)

Immediately after the game, the Jets SNY postgame crew weighed in with contemptuous reviews. Missed Dolphins field goals and a first-half injury to running back Reggie Bush, who was shredding the Jets with 6.1 yards per carry, were the only reason the Jets didn’t suffer a crippling loss, they said.

“Going into next week, with San Francisco coming? It’ll be a disaster if they play like that,” said former Jets quarterback Ray Lucas, shaking his head with angry contempt, a style that is more common to pundits who never played the game. (Lucas was apparently unaware that the 49ers, the league’s consensus most impressive team coming into yesterday, had just played poorly themselves against the Dolphins-level Minnesota Vikings, and had actually lost.)

“Alright, we got the nice part of the program out of the way: Jets won, happy happy joy joy,” longtime yapping head Adam Schein obligatorily added a minute later, before getting down to brass tacks.

“Mark Sanchez was awful today," he said. "I mean, what else can I say?”

But then, cut to SNY’s on-field interview with yesterday’s hero, Santonio Holmes. The nominal “star” receiver had his first 100-plus yard receiving game in nearly two years, with nine receptions and 147 yards. He was in a different mental space altogether from the studio guys, speaking nostalgically and in self-congratulatory clichés.

“My mom always told me man, ‘Big-time players make big plays in big games,’” he began. “And I think this was a moment where we all had to show our willpower. It was about who wanted it more. And I think our team wanted it a little bit more than theirs did.”

Holmes was so magnanimous in victory that he even offered up that “Sanchez just had a helluva day today.”

Back in the studio, a flabbergasted Lucas contorted his face and shook his head in disbelief, and then threw up his hands toward the heavens as if the answer to how Holmes could be so deluded could only be found in the celestial realm.

Cynicism and bitterness still surround the Jets, notwithstanding the “a win is a win” mantra and their 2-1 record. The prevailing mood was crystallized last season in this same Miami stadium because of the actions of this same player, Holmes, whose on-field conniption led to accusations that he had “quit” on the team, along with subsequent revelations that he had been a pretty terrible teammate for much of the year.

The whole thing seemed like a logical bursting of the Rex Ryan-era bubble: Rex and the Jets had talked a big game and taken chances on wayward football souls like Holmes who weren’t worth the headache for other teams. It had led to some early success, but now they were paying the price.

For people inclined to view the Jets as a team in its tawdry decline period, there was no shortage of data points this past week. First was Ryan's snapping at reporters in response to repeated questions about the use of Tim Tebow. Then came Bart Scott’s near physical-confrontation with a reporter, which, for the many longtime Jets fans who are also Mets fans, carried associations with another flameout of a team with an ugly relationship with its press corps and an even uglier record on the field. Sunday’s game just seemed consistent with that general state of disrepair.

But don’t tell that to the players, who saw yesterday as a well-earned day of redemption.

“I’m really proud,” said Sanchez, before thanking various facets of the team for “picking me up when I didn’t have it today.”

But the biggest thanks went to the player who had redeemed himself the most.

“Santonio played his ass off," Sanchez said. "Say what you want about him. He played his absolute ass off.”