Mark Sanchez, Jets keep season alive

Despite some shaky play for most of the game, Mark Sanchez came through in the clutch. Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The boos were raining down on New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez. For the entire first half and part of the third quarter, Sanchez and the offense was a mess.

There was poor communication between the quarterback and receivers. The play-calling was questionable, and New York’s offense couldn’t get anything going against a Buffalo Bills defense that allowed 39.5 points per game the past two weeks.

But there is something about the big moments where Sanchez transforms into “The Sanchise.” He had another one of those moments Sunday in a potential season-saving touchdown drive to lead New York to a 28-24 victory over the Bills.

Sanchez drove the Jets 82 yards on 12 plays in the final minutes during a drive that virtually ended Buffalo’s playoff hopes and kept the Jets’ postseason dreams alive.

The drive started at the 5:44 mark and Sanchez was nearly flawless. He was 7-for-9 on the final drive for 65 yards. Sanchez only threw for 115 yards up until that point. It was the type of performance that Sanchez and New York may be able to look back on as a potential defining moment if the Jets find a way into the postseason.

“That was big-time,” Jets head coach Rex Ryan said of Sanchez. “That’s what we always said about Mark: He’s at his best in big moments. Certainly [Sunday] you can’t get a bigger moment than what we had.”

In fact, Ryan couldn’t stop gushing about his starting quarterback after the game.

“He’s a stud,” Ryan said. “The 'Sanchise,' that’s who he is. … We have complete faith in Mark. He’s done it before.”

Ryan and Sanchez are tied closely to one another. The pair came to New York in 2009 as head coach and first-round pick, respectively. The Jets traded up to get Sanchez and Ryan opted to start Sanchez right away. Much of the head coach’s success is tied into how Sanchez turns out.

But Ryan’s comments Sunday were interesting considering the timing. The Jets' head coach gave backup quarterback Mark Brunell first-team reps in practice this week. It wasn’t because Ryan was considering starting Brunell. But he wanted to send a wake-up call to his quarterback that he must play better.

It worked, at least in the clutch. Sanchez’ overall numbers were pedestrian. He was17-for-35 for 180 yards. But he also had four touchdown passes and was great in the second half, completing 9 of 14 passes for 114 yards and two key touchdowns.

Sanchez said all he was thinking on the final drive was “completions, completions.” He hit four different receivers on the drive, including a key third-and-11 throw to Plaxico Burress on the sideline for 18 yards that kept the drive alive.

“I don’t know if words do it justice,” Sanchez said. “It was a big-time catch in a crucial situation, and it really gave us a chance to take the lead.”

That set up Sanchez’s winning touchdown pass to Santonio Holmes two plays later. The pair were not on the same page much of the game and missed several opportunities to make big plays until the final minutes. It showed resilience on the part of Sanchez and the offense.

“I sense confidence in him throughout the whole game,” Holmes said. “No matter what he goes through, he continues to play until the last second of the game and it showed today again.”

It’s too soon to say a drive like this will propel the Jets make the playoffs. New York still has a lot of work ahead.

The Cincinnati Bengals (7-4), Tennessee Titans (6-5) and Denver Broncos (6-5) are in the running for the wild card. New York will most likely have to go 4-1 the rest of the way to get in. The Jets, who play at Washington in Week 13, don't play a team with a winning record until they meet the New York Giants on Dec. 24.

Similar to Sunday against Buffalo, Sanchez’s play will be a strong barometer for down the stretch. But he has played well in big moments most of career, which might bode well for New York’s postseason hopes.