Sanchez not using his head properly

Mark Sanchez injured his knee diving for a first down in the third quarter Thursday night. AP Photo/David Duprey

TORONTO -- Of all the rookie maneuvers Mark Sanchez has pulled, New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan was most upset about what his young quarterback did Thursday night.

When Sanchez scarfed down a hot dog on the sideline, he received a good-natured finger wagging. When Sanchez posed for a GQ photo spread, he was playfully ridiculed. When Sanchez routinely refused to let a botched play die a merciful death and committed a turnover, the club cited growing pains.

Sanchez had a five-interception performance, another with four interceptions and a lost fumble. He had a game with an interception returned for a touchdown and a fumble recovered for a touchdown.

Yet through all those tribulations, the Jets justified they were all part of the learning process for a blue-chip prospect who's developing into a special NFL quarterback.

On Thursday night, Sanchez truly drew Ryan's ire.

"I love the kid, but he's gotta grow up," Ryan huffed.

The Jets kept their faint playoff hopes alive with a 19-13 victory over the Buffalo Bills in the Rogers Centre. The Jets won back-to-back games for the first time since September. They crawled back to .500, a place they hadn't been in five weeks. With a New England Patriots loss Sunday afternoon to the Miami Dolphins in Land Shark Stadium, the Jets will be within striking distance of first place in the AFC East.

Any satisfaction was tempered by Sanchez's decision to burrow his head and dive for a first down in the third quarter. On the surface, it was a gutsy play. To Ryan, however, it was stupid.

Sanchez spooked the Jets in the Week 12 victory over the Carolina Panthers. He left the game briefly with a left knee injury. He got hurt fighting for extra yards on a scramble.

So the Jets got proactive about teaching their impetuous quarterback some preventative duck-and-cover techniques. They brought in a special instructor to teach Sanchez how to slide feet first.

New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi was gracious enough to show Sanchez how to hit the deck.

Easier taught than done.

Two nights after saying how blown away he was that a World Series champion would take the time to help him, Sanchez tucked the ball and bolted for the first-down marker. It was a third-and-6 play from the Jets' 13-yard line. It was midway through the third quarter. The Jets were up by six points. They needed to convert.

And what would Girardi's reaction have been to what Sanchez did next?

"He's probably calling him a knucklehead or something like that," Ryan said. "He's our knucklehead. We love him. But, man, oh, man."

Sanchez did not slide feet first. He burrowed his head for a gain of 8 yards and a Jets first down.

And he got hurt, his right knee this time.

Two plays later, Sanchez removed himself from the game. He disappeared to the locker room and wasn't seen again for the rest of the game.

"I was just trying to advance the chains," Sanchez said, "and that is just the way I play. I, obviously, regret not [sliding feet first]."

While not complaining about the surface, the Jets did suggest that the Rogers Centre turf was hard and fast, which made Sanchez’s knee suffer more.

Sanchez will have an MRI to determine the extent of the damage, but Ryan expressed optimism Sanchez suffered only a sprain. With three extra days of rest, Ryan was hopeful Sanchez would be ready to go when the Jets visit the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 14.

But Ryan conceded Thursday night's foolhardiness was worse than throwing five interceptions in a game.

"That's probably a true statement," Ryan said. "He just has to understand. This guy is crucial for our organization's success. He can't be reckless, and I think right now maybe this little setback will show him how serious we are about this.

"I never want him diving forward. I don't want to see that. I thought we were clear on it."

In the heat of the moment, Sanchez isn't hearing Girardi's voice telling him to slide. Sanchez is fixated on the first down. The play is happening so fast, he's relying on the instincts that made him a star at Southern California and the fifth overall pick in this year's draft.

In that fraction of a second, he's a competitor who won't be denied.

"I know why he did it," Ryan said. "He's trying to get the first down. He wouldn't have made the first down if he slid. But he's gotta understand I don't care about the first down. I care about him. He has to understand that."

Veteran backup Kellen Clemens, not knowing it was the play on which Sanchez got hurt, said that diving was the right choice in that situation.

"The third-down play, he had to go head-first," Clemens said. "It was a good decision on his part because it was close. If he slides there, then he doesn't get the third down and we punt. That one was certainly a good decision on his part."

Upon learning Sanchez hurt his knee on that play, Clemens struck a different tone.

"That's a tough one," Clemens said with a wince. "I shouldn't even have weighed in on it. Now I'm back pedaling."

Clemens finished the game, but it would be generous to say he closed it out. He attempted only two passes. He did complete one for 14 yards to convert a third-and-12.

But he got sacked three times, and fumbled on the Jets' 6-yard line. Luckily, left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson was there to pounce on it.

"We got a ton of confidence in Kellen," Ryan said. "He stepped in. He'll get a game ball for his performance. It was clutch. In that situation, that's tough, coming in. He does a great job and he's itching to go."

But Ryan clearly believes the team's best opportunity to win is with Sanchez.

Even if the rookie clearly remains a hard-headed work in progress.