EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The New York Jets' first- and second-string quarterbacks stood in front of their adjacent lockers. It was a quiet moment amid the victorious frenzy of a postgame locker room, no cameras on Mark Sanchez or Tim Tebow, no expectations for a show of support.
That's when Tebow, the backup, extended a hand to Sanchez, the starter. They shook as Tebow patted Sanchez on the lower back.
"Nice job," Tebow said, warmly and emphatically.
"Nice job by you," Sanchez responded with a smile.
"No controversy at all," Shonn Greene declared later and after the Jets' 48-28 dismantling of the Buffalo Bills.
The great New York quarterback experiment was a success – thus far – with Sanchez delivering a terrific 19-of-27, 266-yard, three-touchdown performance. Tebow subbed in for five rushes for 11 yards and did everything else that was asked of him – lining up as a slot receiver, blocking on punt coverage, recovering an onside kick, etc.
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Winning tends to smooth everything over. The Bills were not ready for the opener and no one expects the season to run this smoothly. That said, this came after a preseason where the Jets failed to score an offensive touchdown with either Sanchez or Tebow running the show. It came after the team was mocked and questioned in every conceivable way, including a New York Post cartoon with Sanchez, Tebow and Rex Ryan driving a clown car. It came even with some empty seats at MetLife Stadium despite beautiful weather, suggesting fans weren't sold on the team's potential.
There is by all accounts, genuine respect, support and even a level of friendship between Sanchez and Tebow. It's from there everything seems to be working. Both are focused on winning games together over competing individually. Whatever rivalry was possible just hasn't arisen.
Initially, Sanchez was "rattled" when the Jets brought Tebow in from the Denver Broncos, at least according to Santonio Holmes. Since then he's handled the presence of this cultural icon of a QB with aplomb.
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There have been no shots at Tebow. No complaints to management. No frustration with the media that keeps bringing up the back-up. And yet, there hasn't been any phony praise either, no canned answers and forced smiles.
It's just been real.
And if Ryan and offensive coordinator Tony Sparano are going to pull him out on some critical downs to run the Wildcat with Tebow, then Sanchez is going to look at the positive side of it. Making opponents prepare for two offenses might make his life easier.
In the end, he's the starter, Tebow is a teammate and the Jets need to find ways to win. More than anything else, this is the development of a quarterback.
"I bought in," Sanchez said. "I bought in. Just like everybody on the team. Not just the Wildcat, but the feeling of us as a team and a unit. Transcending football we're a family. We're a tight-knit group.
"I knew Tim could come in here and help us and that is just the tip of the iceberg," he continued. "We've barely seen anything yet. We have plenty more in our grab bag of a Wildcat. Tim is an explosive guy so he can help this offense. He did a great job today."
As for Tebow, he's been the consummate teammate. He wants to compete for the starting job and is honest about that motivation. Yet he's still cheerleader-in-chief on the sideline and eager for whatever role he's given – "I'm just anxious to keep winning games." Really, how many quarterbacks, let alone a quarterback who won a playoff game last season, would be willing to take a spot on the onside kick receiving team – where you are begging to get drilled?
"It was fun," Tebow gushed about his first game as a Jet. As for the kick recovery, he proudly noted it was his first since, "my freshman year versus Vanderbilt."
Over his first three years as the Jets' starter, Sanchez has been protected by the franchise. His backups were either wise veterans there to show him the ropes or young guys that weren't a threat to take his spot. Ryan did all he could to heap praise on his young QB and take the media spotlight off him with various antics and quotes.
Perhaps the arrival of Tebow caused just enough of a shake-up that Sanchez stepped up. The key to the game was the Jets' offensive line dominating the Bills' rebuilt and highly-touted front four.
"When Mark has time to throw the football he can throw with anybody," Ryan said.
Still, this was a sharper Sanchez. "He did a great job checking down and when he had his shots he took them and was able to hit them," Tebow said. It was Sanchez who after a terrible, forced interception on the opening drive, responded by putting points up on the next five drives. Mostly though he just looked settled. Tebow isn't a threat, isn't a slight. He's an opportunity. None of Tebow's plays amounted to much Sunday, something that after all this Wildcat talk was embarrassing.
"Obviously we'd like to break one but we'll continue to develop," Tebow said.
Sanchez didn't just offer tepid support of the concept that takes him out of the game, though. He vocally defended it.
"Those Wildcat plays could be our explosive plays at some point."
That's what Sanchez bought into. And that's what turned a potentially wild experiment into something positive.
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"I'm just confident in this team," Sanchez said. "Confident in this coaching staff. I told everyone during OTAs, there's just a good vibe going around the building. I don't know what it is, you can't quite put a finger on it.
"Rex made a great comment to us that at some point during this season everyone in our locker room is going to see we are bleeding green. And we are really playing for each other."
It doesn't make much for back page cartoons or afternoon talk radio topics.
It did produce a blowout victory and a low-key but telling locker room handshake between two teammates on an opening day of vindication for the New York Jets and their grand quarterbacking experiment.
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