The embattled incumbent rallied after a terrible start Friday night against the Detroit Lions in the preseason opener for both teams, and rookie Geno Smith left with an ankle injury in the third quarter of the Jets' 26-17 loss at Ford Field.
Smith rolled his right ankle while trying to turn upfield on a scramble -- a non-contact injury -- and he limped immediately to the sideline. He was examined by the medical staff and walked to the locker room. X-rays were negative, according to Smith, who said there are "no fractures, no breaks."
The injury didn't appear serious. Smith was limping slightly after the game, but he wasn't wearing a walking boot. He wore flip flops, a compression sleeve and an electronic stimulator. He said he hopes to practice next week.
"I was in complete disbelief" when the injury happened, said Smith, claiming he could've returned if it were a regular-season game.
Sanchez rebounded from an awful start. On his third pass, he underthrew a screen pass, and it was intercepted by rookie defensive end Ziggy Ansah, who returned it 14 yards for a touchdown. Later, another screen almost was intercepted, and that, too, likely would've gone for a touchdown.
"The rookie made an awesome play," Sanchez said of Ansah, claiming his intended target, fullback Tommy Bohanon, got knocked off his route.
Sanchez was lucky the game was on the road or else he would've heard loud boos from a frustrated fan base. He committed a league-high 52 turnovers over the last two seasons, prompting the team to draft Smith in the second round.
To his credit, Sanchez rallied the Jets to a long touchdown drive, finishing 10-for-13 for 125 yards. He orchestrated a seven-play, 80-yard drive out of the no-huddle, hitting a wide-open Jeff Cumberland for a 26-yard touchdown.
"Other than one crappy play, it wasn't too bad," Sanchez said.
Sanchez still believes he's the front-runner for the starting job. Asked if he expects to be the opening-day starter, he said, "Yeah, that's the plan. I've said that before."
Sanchez was removed after three series. In came Smith, who played two series behind the first-team line. He connected with Clyde Gates for 15 yards on his first play, and that was the first of only two first downs in four series.
Smith completed 6-of-7 passes for 47 yards. He didn't make any huge mistakes, but he appeared tentative at times.
Nevertheless, Smith was satisfied.
"I think I played exceptionally well," Smith said.
Greg McElroy finished the game.
Coach Rex Ryan said he didn't know the severity of Smith's injury. Smith said it's similar to a basketball injury, adding: "It's just sore. ... I don't think it's anything significant."
Ryan declined to speculate on how the injury might affect his plans for the next game.
"I'd rather not deal with the what-ifs," he said. "We'll see where he is."