Checkdowns turned into checkmate for Mark Sanchez and the New York Jets.
Sanchez was intercepted on three short passes in Sunday’s season-ending 19-17 loss to the Dolphins in Miami. There would be no charm in his third pro season as he’ll miss the playoffs for the first time as the Jets lost their third consecutive game and finished 8-8 overall.
“That’s the first time I’ve ever had that happen,” he said of the misfortune on dump passes.
The three takeaways led to a trio of Dan Carpenter field goals for the Dolphins. The last one was the most painful as the Green & White trailed, 16-10, with 3:10 remaining, but they were in scoring position at the MIA-10. Needing 6 yards for a first down, No. 6 backed up in the pocket and threw to a covered Shonn Greene and was intercepted by OLB Marvin Mitchell.
“The third one down in the red zone, at least just give ourselves a chance on the next down,” Sanchez said. “Even if it’s fourth down, we know we’re probably going to end up going for it. You don’t want to give one up like that. I know I threw behind Shonn a little bit is what it felt like.”
Mitchell’s subsequent 55-yard return set up Carpenter’s final field goal as the Dolphins essentially sealed it with a 19-10 advantage and just 2:37 on the game clock.
Sanchez’s struggles began late in the first half. The Jets held a 10-3 lead and wanted more after S Brodney Pool intercepted a pass at the NYJ-45 with 25 seconds on the clock. On second down, the pressured quarterback found DE Randy Starks instead of LaDainian Tomlinson. And Carpenter made the Jets pay with a 58-yard boot before intermission.
The Jets relinquished their lead early in the final stanza when the Dolphins culminated a 21-play, 94-yard drive on a Matt Moore 1-yard scoring pass to FB Charles Clay. When the offense really needed a response down, 13-10, former Jet Jason Taylor got around D’Brickashaw Ferguson and closed in on Sanchez. The 25-year-old passer got rid of the rock and unfortunately threw right into the arms of Starks again.
“JT got some pressure on me and I was trying to throw the ball, avoid the sack and get it to John Conner. And Starks was right there,” Sanchez said. “To get intercepted three times on checkdowns, as frustrating as it is, is pretty rare. I have to go back and see whether it’s an accuracy issue or maybe just take the sack on that one, but we’re really trying to avoid sacks at all costs.”
Sanchez finished this disappointing afternoon 21-of-32 for 207 yards and two scores. He finished the season with 26 TDs — tying Al Dorow (1960) and Joe Namath (1967) for the second-highest single season total in team history — and he also ran for six scores. He upped his yardage total to 3,474, but he totaled 18 INTs and eight lost fumbles.
“I think he’s the long-term solution. I don’t think there’s any doubt. He’s won a lot of games for us,” said head coach Rex Ryan. “He had the three interceptions today — two of them from defensive linemen. That’s hard to explain. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that before. I think Mark has all the tools to be a great quarterback. He’s been a winning quarterback here and we have to make sure we are doing everything we can for the New York Jets to be successful.”
It was another uneven performance from a team/offense that entered Week 17 ninth in scoring at 24 points/game and first in red zone efficiency with a TD rate of 66.7 percent. The Jets totaled 374 yards, but there were the turnovers, five false starts and a 4-of-11 outing on third down.
“We played well at times in spurts, just not consistent enough for us to win,” Sanchez said. “I have to play better for us to win. I can’t throw it to them three times.”
His last pass went to Patrick Turner for the wideout’s first professional score. With Santonio Holmes on the sideline, the Jets moved 80 yards on their final possession and Sanchez ended it on a 10-yard strike to Turner.
“You saw the way the other guys were playing on that last drive we had and that was probably one of our best drives of the game after three turnovers,” Sanchez said. “If there was any lack of confidence there, you’re not going to be able to drive the ball down the field.”
We’ll have to wait until September for the next time Sanchez takes a snap in a meaningful game. Football and chess sometimes can be awfully cruel.
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