FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Mark Sanchez calls Sunday a must-win. He cited two reasons: (1) conference game, (2) home game. The New York Jets, perennially mediocre on their home turf, want to go undefeated at MetLife Stadium.
Sanchez could've added a third reason: There's no way the Jets can afford to lose to a seat warmer.
The seat warmer's name is Luke McCown, quarterback of the Jacksonville Jaguars, not to be confused with Josh McCown or Cade McNown. McCown, elevated to No. 1 when David Garrard was unceremoniously fired almost two weeks ago, is holding the spot for first-round pick Blaine Gabbert.
McCown is on the clock, his 15 minutes of fame likely to expire as soon as he loses two straight.
The Jets can't lose to a journeyman with a career record of 2-6, a quarterback who hasn't thrown a touchdown pass in four years. They fancy themselves as the biggest, baddest defensive team in the league, but it would be hard to take them seriously again if they let McCown beat them.
Especially after last week's uncharacteristic performance against the Dallas Cowboys, a 390-yard stinker that made for some tense moments this week in the defensive meeting rooms.
"The sky wasn't falling for us after, but it was kind of like, 'Hey, we're not as good as we think we are,'" defensive coordinator Mike Pettine said. "We get hyped up and a lot of guys buy into it. They're like, 'Hey, I'm wearing a Jets jersey, I must be good.' It doesn't happen that way.
"It's human nature when you go a long period of time, [hearing], 'You guys are an elite defense, you guys are an elite defense,'" he continued. "Well, we are an elite defense when we prove it on the field. That was a good wake-up call."
During the run-up to the season, the Jets told everybody how their continuity -- 10 returning starters -- would be a huge advantage early in the season, particularly after the lockout. But against the Cowboys, the defense made seven glaring errors, according to Rex Ryan. The defense committed a cardinal sin -- twice -- allowing the opponent to score a touchdown on the opening drive of each half.
That was the Cowboys; these are the Jaguars, who play football the old-fashioned way. They use a lot of two-back sets, pound the rock with Maurice Jones-Drew and look for athletic tight end Marcedes Lewis -- who is doubtful with a calf injury -- when they need to complete a pass.
Their game plan is to protect McCown, whose arm isn't going to take anybody's breath away. He attempted only one pass over 21 yards last week, according to ESPN Stats & Information. The Jaguars run a lot of safe stuff -- three-step drops, bootlegs and screen passes.
"They thrive on win[ning] boring," Pettine said. "It's not pretty. It's not what the league wants, but it's effective for them."
This should be a street fight. The Jets always talk tough about being a physical team, and this is their first chance in 2011 to validate that toughness. The Jaguars play ground-and-pound. In their season-opening win over the Tennessee Titans, they rushed 47 times.
This will be a double-chin strap game, as Ryan likes to say. If the Jets can contain Jones-Drew, they'll be able to go to town on McCown. They have an impressive track record of chewing up and spitting out second-rate quarterbacks, and they should be able to rough up McCown -- if they are who they say they are.
"He's a solid quarterback," said one Jets defensive player, smiling and rolling his eyes.
They didn't want to be mean. Their scouting report on McCown made him sound like the proverbial blind date: great personality.
No, the Jets save the trash talk for the big guns, like Tom Brady.
"He's a guy who has been in the league for a long time and he's had only -- what? -- eight starts," Pettine said of McCown. "Anytime you have a guy that's inexperienced, you want to put the game on his shoulders."
Truth be told, this game is on the defense and the offensive line, which also showed some vulnerability in the opener. The Jets allowed 10 quarterback knockdowns and rushed for only 45 yards on 16 attempts, a horrible 2.8 average. That, coupled with a subpar performance against the Jaguars in 2009, prompted Ryan to challenge the line in a team meeting.
"We're all pretty jacked up about this game," guard Matt Slauson said. "They were more physical than us. That should never happen. Nobody in the league should out-physical our offensive line."
So here you have the two strongest units on the team, offensive line and defense, approaching Week 2 with something to prove. The Jets, their defense in particular, like to talk a lot, manufacturing some of the hype that went to their head.
Now they get a shot at the seat warmer. Lose to McCown, and the Jets will be on the hot seat.