EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The play was straight out of the Rich Kotite era, a slapstick sequence that will live forever in the annals of Stupid Jet Tricks. Mark Sanchez suffered a head-up-his-butt moment, and he made it worse by almost putting his head up Brandon Moore's backside.
It was an unforgivable mistake by the New York Jets quarterback, who started the avalanche Thursday night with two killer mistakes in the first 21 minutes of their 49-19 loss to the New England Patriots.
On a simple handoff, Sanchez turned the wrong way. He realized his mistake and aborted the play, trying a forward slide. For some reason, he slid into Moore's rear end and the force of the impact caused him to lose the ball. Surely, Yankees manager Joe Girardi, who once gave Sanchez a sliding tutorial, never taught him this maneuver. Safety Steve Gregory scooped the ball up and ran 32 yards for a touchdown to make it 21-0.
Cue the blooper reel.
It was bizarre and sad and symbolic of the Jets' night, the second of three Patriots touchdowns in a span of 52 seconds. For three hours on Thanksgiving, the Jets were NBC's newest sitcom. But let's be serious for a second, because this was another example of Sanchez making game-changing mistakes in a big game.
Sanchez misread a coverage and threw a first-quarter interception in scoring territory, when the Jets had a chance to take a 7-0 lead, and he followed that up with his ill-fated slide into Moore's tush. He actually got hit pretty hard.
"That was kind of an unfortunate deal there," Sanchez said. "I'm not a big believer in luck, but that was pretty unlucky. That was really too bad."
With a chance to get his team back into playoff contention, Sanchez delivered the kind of performance that will force the braintrust to question whether he's their man for the future. He'll probably stick around because they owe him $8.25 million in guarantees, but owner Woody Johnson and his decision-makers can't feel good about the contract extension they gave him in March.
For now, Sanchez gets to keep his starting job. Rex Ryan has no choice at this point. It was revealed after the game that Tim Tebow has two fractured ribs, a two-week-old injury. Typical Jets luck: Even if Ryan wanted to change quarterbacks, he can't.
Ryan has been fiercely loyal to Sanchez, his handpicked quarterback -- and that loyalty ultimately could lead to the coach's demise. Once again, Ryan endorsed Sanchez. This time, he didn't sound as convincing.
"Mark will be our starting quarterback this week, and we'll go from there," said Ryan, meaning the home game against the Arizona Cardinals in nine days.
That wasn't the usual blanket vote of confidence, although Ryan later added, "You can't blame it on one individual. Mark gives us our best chance to win right now."
Granted, Sanchez has been undermined by a poor supporting cast and stone-age game plans by offensive coordinator Tony Sparano, but he has contributed to the mess with critical mistakes. Take the first-quarter interception. It was a rookie error.
At the Patriots' 23-yard line, Sanchez was baited into throwing into a clever pass-coverage trap. Gregory, the backside safety, acted like he was dropping into a Cover-2 zone. Sanchez threw to
Jeremy Kerley, who ran an in-cut. Gregory dropped down at the last second and jumped the route.
Sanchez should've seen it. You can excuse a rookie quarterback for that, not a four-year veteran.
"I was thinking one thing, they played another and tried to anticipate Kerley down the middle," Sanchez said. "Gregory got me, so it was a good play by him. Those plays happen. It was unfortunate."
The Jets were still in the game, 14-0, when Sanchez brainlocked on the butt fumble. He was supposed to hand it to fullback Lex Hilliard.
"I was thinking a different play in my head," he said. "Just a mental error there."
Moore said he had no idea what was going on behind his um, behind. He called it a miscommunication, adding this understatement: "It was totally unexpected."
Sanchez later called it a "one-in-a-zillion play." Sure, just like Bubby Brister's shovel pass in 1995. Bad teams make bad plays. Thing is, this was Sanchez's big chance. He played well in the previous meeting against the Patriots, and played well last week in St. Louis. The Jets needed him to be the Sanchize.
Naturally, Ryan didn't come close to criticizing his quarterback. He defended the fumble, saying it was Sanchez's first such mental error this season. Later, Ryan said, "I thought Mark threw the ball well."
Ryan looked down at his stat sheet. He mentioned Sanchez's 94.8 passer rating, the product of 26-for-36 efficiency, 301 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
The numbers, of course, don't tell the real story. Sanchez failed to elevate those around him. He has 15 turnovers in 11 games, with at least five of those in scoring territory. He had plenty of help, as the Jets self-destructed in all three phases, committing five turnovers.
"That was a nightmare of a game, to say the least," Ryan said.
"Yeah, it was an embarrassing performance," said Joe McKnight, who fumbled on a kickoff return.
It was more than embarrassing. On national TV, the Jets made themselves the butt of a hundred jokes.
And we know whose butt they're talking about.