The New York Jets pride themselves on the versatility of their quarterbacks, but Rex Ryan didn't want his team to end its real shot at upsetting the Houston Texans with a tackle credited to Mark Sanchez.
In a game that was much closer on the field and on the scoreboard than anybody expected, the Jets hung tough into the majority of the fourth quarter, before a Sanchez pass to tight end Jeff Cumberland went through the hands of the quarterback's target and landed instead in the hands of Texans defensive back Kareem Jackson. The Texans were able to walk off the field at MetLife Stadium with a 23-17 win.
"Jeff made some great catches for us tonight -- he's not going to make them all," Sanchez said after the game. "Nobody is."
Sanchez, who had his fourth straight game with a completion rate under 50 percent, connected on enough long plays to make it more than interesting. He completed five passes of 20 or more yards, compared to just two for Texans quarterback Matt Schaub. His best throws came on a touchdown drive that started with 5:54 left in the first quarter. Sanchez completed a tight throw to receiver Clyde Gates for 27 yards, and finished that drive three plays later with a 27-yard score to Cumberland.
But on a night when Sanchez had to hear the calls for Tim Tebow from the fans at his home stadium, he couldn't quite come through when necessary. Among quarterbacks with at least 100 attempts, Sanchez's 48.4 completion percentage is the lowest through the first five games of a season since Oakland's JaMarcus Russell completed just 42.1 percent in 2009.
The Jets' offensive play-calling, which has been an issue under scrutiny all season, was so again in this game. On the drive that started on the last play of the third quarter, and with the Texans up, 23-14, Sanchez hit Cumberland for 24 yards on the first play, and expanded the chances of success two plays later with a 36-yard completion to receiver Jeremy Kerley.
But then, offensive coordinator Tony Sparano started playing musical quarterbacks, and things went quickly downhill. Sparano subbed Tebow in right after the Kerley catch, and Tebow followed a 13-yard run with a stuff for no gain. When Sanchez came back in the game, he threw incompletions to running back Bilal Powell and receiver Chaz Schilens, and the Jets had to settle for a Nick Folk field goal when they once had first-and-goal at the Texans' 3-yard line.
That said, the primary reason for the Jets' offensive struggles was J.J. Watt, Houston's game-changing defensive tackle. In the game, Watt batted down three passes, including the one that ended the game with four seconds remaining, and regained the NFL's sack lead over Green Bay's Clay Matthews. Watt, who now has 8.5 sacks, seems to be the shoo-in for the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year award.
Houston's offense wasn't quite as explosive as it had been through the first four games, but the Texans managed to remain with the Atlanta Falcons as the NFL's only undefeated teams. Schaub relied on a heavy diet of play-action passes, starting from the first drive of the game, when the Texans traveled 85 yards in eight plays for the game's opening touchdown.
While running back Arian Foster gashed the Jets' curiously weak run defense for 152 yards and a touchdown on 29 carries, star receiver Andre Johnson caught just one pass for 15 yards. Johnson was targeted six times, but cornerback Antonio Cromartie, forced into the shutdown role by the season-ending injury to Darrelle Revis, had an outstanding game.
Sanchez was not consoled by the fact that his team was able to stay close in a game few gave them a chance to win. "No, we don't care what anyone else thinks," he said. "We have great personnel -- really good players. Guys who want to win and want to play. And when those lights come on, those guys come alive."
In the end, the 2-3 Jets just couldn't manage to be alive enough.
For the Texans, the only bad news was Brian Cushing's knee injury suffered in the second quarter. The star linebacker went down after Jets guard Matt Slauson appeared to clip Cushing on a run by Bilal Powell. It was revealed after the game that Cushing may have a torn ACL.
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