Sanchez throws away Jets' hot start

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Mark Sanchez climbed the steps up to the podium and stopped for a moment to gather himself. He peeled a scribble of black athletic tape off the bottom of his shower sandal, buying himself a couple extra seconds. Then he drew a deep breath and emphatically exhaled before assuming his position behind the lectern.

Sanchez, the New York Jets rookie quarterback, was going to try to answer questions about Sunday's deplorable performance at the Meadowlands.

He threw five interceptions to facilitate a 16-13 Buffalo Bills overtime victory, the Jets' third straight defeat after opening the season 3-0.

"Just an embarrassing day," were the first words Sanchez spoke into the microphone. "I just gave that team the win. Credit to them for catching all those passes."

None of the outside factors mattered, not the opposition, a missing go-to receiver or the unlucky bounces.

The weather wasn't the reason either. His arm was warm enough, the ball dry enough.

Sanchez simply wasn't good enough.

"It was just a poor day accuracy-wise, a couple misreads," Sanchez said. "I really let this team down. There's no excuse for that."

Interceptions weren't his only problems. Sanchez fumbled with nobody around him 38 seconds before halftime. He fell on it at the Buffalo 32-yard line, but the Jets had to call their final timeout and, two plays later, had to hurry Jay Feely off the sideline for a 44-yard attempt that sailed too far left.

Sanchez also took a bad sack in the fourth quarter, turning a second-and-8 into a third-and-24 with about 4:30 remaining in regulation.

Sanchez was so wretched, head coach Rex Ryan considered yanking the player who looked so smooth through the Jets' first three games, his teammates started calling him the Sanchise.

On Sunday, the offense was disenSanchised by his interceptions, which have become commonplace.

In a 14-point loss to the New Orleans Saints two weeks ago, Sanchez chucked three interceptions -- Darren Sharper took one back 99 yards -- and lost a fumble in the end zone for another touchdown. Sanchez bounced back with a decent game last Monday night, but the Miami Dolphins still beat the Jets.

"In six games, we have three losses, and I feel like two of those losses you can blame on No. 6," Sanchez said, referring to his jersey number. "It's not a good feeling. I've got to turn this thing around."

Over his past three games, Sanchez has completed 36 of 80 passes for 429 yards and one touchdown with eight interceptions. He has a 26.5 passer rating for those games. He also was sacked seven times.

"Mark is going through a learning curve," Jets right tackle Damien Woody said. "We just have to ride it out. We are going to have a tough stretch, but he is still our quarterback."

Jets fans frequently booed him Sunday. If his struggles resume, fans will begin to wonder if Kellen Clemens would provide an offensive spark.

The Jets' defense is playing well enough to win. The Jets' running game is holding its own, especially Sunday. Thomas Jones ripped off runs of 64 and 71 yards on his way to a 210-yard day, the best of his career. The Jets amassed 318 rushing yards, second-most in franchise history.

But their blue-chip quarterback has been throwing it away. The Jets became only the seventh team in NFL history to have a 200-yard rusher and lose the game. What's worse, the Bills won their first AFC East game since 2007, and they pulled it off with their backup quarterback.

"You're not going to win too many games throwing five picks," Ryan said. "I thought about pulling him, but I still believe in him.

"He gives us the best chance to win, and he will remain our quarterback."

Those weren't acrobatic interceptions by the Bills (2-4), who picked off six passes total. Sanchez hung passes up for grabs or sent them right into their receptacles. Rookie safety Jairus Byrd came down with two interceptions. Linebacker Paul Posluszny absorbed one with his torso. Reserve defensive backs Reggie Corner, George Wilson and John Wendling had one apiece. In fairness, Sanchez did not throw the pass Wendling intercepted: Punter Steve Weatherford, who bobbled a snap on Jay Feeley's 50-yard field-goal attempt early in overtime, tossed a prayer that Wendling snatched.

"We had their quarterback under stress all day long," Posluszny said. "Our defensive line really put a lot of pressure on Mark Sanchez, forcing him to move around a lot and make him uncomfortable. Any time you can do that to a quarterback, it usually works out for your back seven."

The golden boy from Southern California never had bestowed five interceptions in a game at any level. He threw four his entire senior season at Mission Viejo High, five his entire sophomore season at USC. He tossed 10 as a junior at USC, but three was the most he ever threw in a game, a 28-0 laugher over Arizona State.

Sunday was Sanchez's first game in the type of weather a New York quarterback has to cope with on a regular basis. The wind was gusty, the air frigid, the sky gray.

"I don’t think it affected me at all," Sanchez said. "To be totally honest, I don't know if I could have played any worse. The ball wasn't slipping out of my hands. The weather isn't a factor when you're making all the wrong reads. The weather isn't a factor when you're missing Dustin [Keller] wide open over the middle.

"There's no way I can blame it on the weather. The wind didn't blow the ball to the defenders."

True enough. Sanchez went into Sunday with five interceptions. Three of them were thrown in the Superdome, another in Reliant Stadium with the retractable roof closed.

The dazzling first impression Sanchez made in his NFL debut against the Houston Texans has been nullified. He threw for 272 yards and a touchdown, becoming just the fourth rookie to win his NFL debut on the road on opening day.

Despite being composed in managing the Jets to a 3-0 start, Sanchez hasn't eclipsed 175 yards passing since his debut. He has fumbled at least once in four of his six games.

After the game, Sanchez's teammates gave him encouraging nods, slapped him on the pads, offered words of support.

As he stood behind the podium at his news conference, Sanchez was self-deprecatingly confused.

"I don't know how they do it," Sanchez said. "It says a lot about how they feel about me and the kind of faith they have in me. So I have to perform.

"It's the first time something like this has happened to me, and hopefully it's the last."