Mark Sanchez delivered a clutch performance in defeat against the Patriots.
The defense wouldn't be able to sustain a pass rush to pressure Tom Brady enough into hurrying throws and making mistakes. The offense was going to ignore the Patriots' inefficient secondary, which surrenders 290 yards passing per game, good enough to rank 29th in the NFL, and instead defy football logic by applying a 'ground and pound' approach.
Struggling quarterback Mark Sanchez was supposed to melt under the pressure and suffer his fifth game of the season without completing at least 50 percent of his passes.
None of that happened as the Jets challenged doubters and put together the most convincing 60 minutes of football they've played all season. But, it came in defeat at the feet of their most hated rival.
So, where does Gang Green go from here? Do they start to unravel and sputter out of control like they did in the 2011 season? Or, do they regroup and improve from a hard-fought loss against a team they need to beat to win the AFC East?
The Jets are not a bad football team. Instead, they are an inconsistent football team. The team that came back from a ten point deficit in the fourth quarter on the road in Gillette Stadium against Tom Brady to take a late lead was not the same team that was brutally beaten 34-0 at home against the 49ers (5-2).
Something seemed to changed.
Mark Sanchez was at his best, throwing for 328 yards, including a laser-beam touchdown pass to tight end Dustin Keller.
That pass brought his team within three points of the Patriots with less than six minutes left on the clock. He completed 68 percent of his passes, silencing doubters and Tebow-maniacs for at least another week. Sanchez dissected a weak Patriots secondary, connecting with eight different Jets receivers on 28 completions in 41 attempts.
His one mistake was an interception at the hands of rookie cornerback Alfonzo Dennard. It was the first of Dennard's career, but it wasn't a deal-breaker for the Jets, who trailed 16-7 in the second quarter when Sanchez committed the turnover.
Sanchez would bounce back to lead the Jets into field-goal range as time was running low in the first half on the next possession, setting up Nick Folk for a 54-yard attempt, which he nailed.
The seemingly unproven Jets QB displayed an encouraging intangible: the ability to rally his team to come back from a late deficit on the road. The 25-year-old quarterback has ten fourth quarter comebacks and 12 game-winning drives through the first three-and-a-half seasons of his career.
Doubts still reign prominent.
Sanchez is the most influential factor in determining whether the Jets can rise from a 3-4 record near the season's midpoint and earn a playoff birth.
His performance on the road in New England signifies new-found life for a team that seemed destined for collapse after losing star cornerback Darrelle Revis for the remainder of the season just a few weeks ago.
Still, the Jets have issues on both sides of the ball.
Their defense yields 147.7 rushing yards per game, enabling opponents to sustain drives, which was a major factor in New York's loss to the Patriots. The offensive line has been average in protecting Sanchez, and feature running back Shonn Greene continues to average less than four yards per carry.
The culmination of all that would lead the common football fan to call the Jets a mediocre team, but the Jets were one big play away from stealing a game against the Patriots on the road.
In fact, it's likely the Jets would have beaten the Patriots if rookie wide receiver Stephen Hill didn't drop a pass in space inside of the red zone with under three minutes to left in regulation.
Sanchez delivered a dart to Hill, who was wide open and possibly could have scored, but the ball dropped to the turf as Hill started to run before catching the pass.
Should the Jets be encouraged by Mark Sanchez' Week 7 performance?
It had the potential to be Sanchez' 13th game-winning drive. Instead, the Jets took another hit in the loss column, although Sanchez's re-found demonstration of grit gives New York a seeming edge as the NFL playoff race starts to heat up.
The Jets need leadership from their starting quarterback to contend, especially considering the bounty of youth the Jets have on offense. Sanchez has developed a reputation as a 'game manger' thus far in his career, but could advance his reputation this season.
The Jets ultimately went toe-to-toe in a heavyweight fight against a team that many columnists and analysts still consider to be superior in the AFC.
They evaded stubborn team philosophy and exposed their opponents' weaknesses. They prevented Tom Brady from shredding their depleted secondary and taking control of the game. And, they got a sufficient performance out of Sanchez.
The Jets lost the game, but they looked like a complete football team for the first time all season, and that gives them an edge heading into a divisional matchup against the Miami Dolphins (3-3) in Week 8.