Bills vs Jets: Mark Sanchez's Big Day Overshadows Dominant Defensive Performance

Erik Frenz@ErikFrenzSenior Writer ISeptember 9, 2012

Sept. 9, 2012; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Jets wide receiver Jeremy Kerley (11) celebrates with quarterback Mark Sanchez (6) after scoring a touchdown during the first quarter against the Buffalo Bills at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Debby Wong-US PRESSWIRE

Confidence. Poise. Tempo. Moxie.

These are traits we knew were within Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez, and we saw all three Sunday in one spot at the same time for the first time since the AFC Divisional Round against the Patriots.

But the Jets defense? They've been elite all along, and if Sunday's embarrassment of the Bills is any indication, it is poised to be a top-five unit in 2012. With two interceptions, a fumble recovery and just one touchdown allowed in the first half alone, the Jets defense came as advertised. 

The offense? Nothing like advertised. Nothing like the unit that failed to score a touchdown until the final game of the preseason. 

Most people expected the Jets to score at least one TD versus Buffalo. No one expected 48 points (a Jets record for a Week 1 game). The Bills defense is a question mark, but make no mistake: Sanchez deserves credit for his performance. 

Aside from an interception on a hurried Sanchez pitch that was bobbled by tight end Jeff Cumberland, Sanchez was nearly flawless, going 15-of-22 for 184 yards and two scores in the first half, and finishing 19-for-27 for 266 yards and three touchdowns in New York's 48-28 victory. He made quick decisions and kept the offense moving.

His efficiency was the reason for his success. Mark's 123.4 passer rating was the second-best regular- season performance of his career. His 70.4 percent completion rate was the fourth highest in his career. He finished with an astonishing 9.85 yards per pass attempt, a career high.

His downfield passing came under scrutiny this offseason, but he had beautiful throws on touchdown passes of 12, 17 and 33 yards. He also got good protection from the offensive line, which allowed him to go through his reads and gave him time to make those throws down the field. 

He needed a game like this to open the season. Sanchez needed to prove that the Jets were smart to keep him as the starter. He needed to validate the Jets for extending him through 2013 this offseason.

Of course, he still has 15 games worth of work to do on both counts. But after the preseason scrutiny he and the Jets endured—here on the AFC East blog and elsewhere—he couldn't have gotten off on much better footing.

And so much for the rib injuries that caused Ryan Fitzpatrick's struggles down the stretch last season. Even at full health, the Bills quarterback looked awful, going 18-for-32 passing for 195 yards, three touchdowns, three interceptions and a 66.5 passer rating.

Rib injuries hurt, but that stat line is painful.

Going forward, Sanchez may not necessarily have to play as well as he did against Buffalo, especially if the defense continues to play up to the standard it set on Sunday. It's a good thing, too, because New York's coming opponents are sure to be an improvement over the Bills.

If Sunday's performance was a mirage, those games could pull back the green curtain. But if Sanchez has truly come around, his performances will be all the indication we need that he has finally overcome his surroundings and the media scrutiny.


Erik Frenz is the AFC East lead blogger for Bleacher Report. Be sure to follow Erik on Twitter and "like" the AFC East blog on Facebook to keep up with all the updates. Unless specified otherwise, all quotes are obtained first-hand.