NFL Week 13 saw the New York Jets defeat the Arizona Cardinals 7-6. The turning point came when quarterback Greg McElroy replaced Mark Sanchez with 4:55 left in the third quarter. McElroy received thunderous applause and then led the Jets on the game’s only touchdown drive. His work adds another dimension to the Jets’ season-long quarterback controversy.
Watching the game was an exercise in self-torment for fans of both teams. Even the announcers seemed bored.
Nevertheless, a review shows the New York Jets continue to be at their best when they employ a strong running attack, let their quarterback manage the game and dominate time of possession.
- The statistics made the Jets look dominant. The Jets won the time of possession battle 38:08 to 21:52. They out-rushed the Cardinals 177 yards to 81. They even out-passed the Cardinals 112 to 56. First downs were no contest: The Jets won that battle 20-5.
- Arizona did not exploit opportunities. Mark Sanchez’s three interceptions gave the Cardinals decent field position. His first interception put them in immediate field-goal range.
- Sanchez’s first interception gave the Cardinals the ball at the Jet 26. They lost the ball on downs.
- Sanchez’s second interception killed a drive that had advanced from the Jets' 19-yard-line to the Arizona 40 in five plays. Arizona started at the Jets' 48. They went three-and-out.
- Sanchez’s third interception was the equivalent of an unreturned 55-yard punt as field position changed from the Jets' 14 to the Arizona 31. The Jets re-intercepted three plays later.
- Offensive lethargy, not turnovers, caused Sanchez’s removal. He did not turn the ball over in the second half. He did not move it either. The Jets had three second-half possessions with Sanchez under center. They gained 18 yards and one first down.
- Greg McElroy gave the Jets the game management that Sanchez’s erratic play lacked. McElroy replaced Sanchez with 4:55 to go in the third quarter, to thunderous applause. He led the Jets on a 64-yard, nine-play touchdown drive that took five minutes off the clock. Then, with 8:02 remaining, the Jets got the ball on their 26. McElroy marched the team to a first down at the Arizona 1 to clinch the win.
- McElroy is no longer a secret weapon. McElroy was the Jets' Week 13 hero, but his performance left questions. Against the Cardinals, he completed five of seven passes for 29 yards and a touchdown. His longest completion was 13 yards. If he starts against Jacksonville next week, he will face an opponent with NFL game film to study and a week to prepare. Ryan and Tony Sparano will need to stretch the field to keep the Jaguars’ defense honest.
- Tim Tebow must go. McElroy’s emergence makes designating Tim Tebow a quarterback less viable than ever. The easiest answer would be to keep him inactive for the rest of the year, then trade him. If he dresses, it should be as a running back or wide receiver.
- The Wildcat must go too. It has not been a credible threat all year, even with a former starting quarterback at its helm.
- Bilal Powell continues to impress. In the Jets’ touchdown drive, he gained 36 of the drive’s 64 yards.
- Special teams are still vulnerable. A 40-yard fake punt play was the Cardinals’ longest gain from scrimmage. It set up Jay Feely’s half-ending field goal. In the third quarter, a blocking penalty to Kyle Wilson during a punt return caused Mark Sanchez 10 yards in field position on his last drive.
- Shonn Greene not only had a 100-yard day, he showed clock management sense. Stopping short of the goal line on his last carry did more than keep the clock moving. It kept the Jets’ special teams off the field.
Mathematically, the New York Jets kept their hopes of a winning season and playoff berth alive. However, they did not play like a team that deserves a playoff berth. For 40 minutes, the Jets played like a team that neither wanted nor deserved this win. Only the Arizona Cardinals’ inability to exploit the opportunities offered them and to mount a credible passing game kept the Jets in this one.
The Jets won because Greg McElroy, a quarterback who had not dressed all season, led them to the only touchdown of the game. McElroy then preserved victory with effective clock and game management.
Will that be enough against Jacksonville? Stay tuned.