It wouldn't have taken much for Geno Smith to win the starting quarterback job.
In some ways, Smith's performance Saturday night was a lot like what we've come to see from the incumbent starter, Sanchez: Up and down, mostly down, a flash of brilliance followed by a reminder of his limitations.
After putting together an eight-play, 86-yard touchdown drive capped off by a 22-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Ben Obomanu, it looked like Smith was well on his way.
He showed patience in going through his progression on that throw and came off his first read to find Obomanu running behind the linebacker from right to left across the defense. Obomanu picked up the final 15 yards with his feet before breaking through some contact to the end zone.
The next five drives ended with a punt, an interception, an interception, a punt and an interception.
Each of the three picks seemed more brutal than the last.
- The first was simply a slant that was thrown a split-second too late, or a half-step behind the receiver. Prince Amukamara had good coverage, but if that throw was a foot in the other direction, it would have been in front of wide receiver Ryan Spadola and would have either been caught or incomplete.
- The second was thrown way over the head of tight end Kellen Winslow on a post pattern over the middle. That's a throw that an NFL safety in a deep zone will intercept just about every time.
- The third was headed to tight end Jeff Cumberland, who was running a five-yard out toward the left sideline. Smith pulled the trigger before he could notice defensive end Justin Tuck dropping into a zone.
The New York Jets rightly gave Smith an opportunity to build back some of his confidence by bringing him back out to start the second half, and he took advantage of the opportunity. Smith went 3-of-3 for 50 yards on the Jets' opening drive of the third quarter, and he even converted a 2nd-and-17 with a 24-yard pass to Obomanu. With a touchdown run from Bilal Powell on a Wildcat run, it looked like the Jets were about to get back on the right track.
Then, Smith went from impersonating Sanchez to impersonating Dan Orlovsky.
He ran out of the back of the end zone while being pressured, yielding the safety. That would mark the end of Smith's night.
At least the rookie can take solace in the fact that Sanchez did not look much better when he came in. He was sacked on his first snap of the game and fumbled a shotgun snap to end his first drive.
Now, we're left to wonder where things stand in this quarterback competition.
Statistically speaking, it looks like Sanchez will come out on top, but that's of course not the whole story.
Sanchez came out of the game in the fourth quarter with a right shoulder injury, according to Rotoworld, after taking a huge hit from New York Giants defensive tackle Marvin Austin. The severity of the injury is unknown, but the injury could have more bearing on the outcome of the quarterback competition and the Jets' Week 1 starter than the performance of either player.
What do the Jets do if Sanchez is healthy and good to go for Week 1?
At this point, the Jets will probably let Smith ride the bench for at least a month or two to begin the regular season. Sanchez will be the starter as sort of a sacrificial lamb for the beginning of the season, perhaps until the bye week.
The Jets have a brutal first-half schedule that includes two games against the New England Patriots and games against the New Orleans Saints, Cincinnati Bengals, Pittsburgh Steelers and Atlanta Falcons.
There's still the possibility that the Jets could name Smith the Week 1 starter, allowing the rookie to go through some potential growing pains. From that perspective, what do the Jets have to lose? If they're going to be bad this year with Sanchez at quarterback, they might as well be bad with Smith at quarterback and allow him to get the experience. The concern then would be shattering his confidence a la Tim Couch.
Either way, the Jets offense will struggle if the quarterback play in the regular season looks anything like it has in the preseason.
Erik Frenz is also a Patriots/AFC East writer for Boston.com. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand or via team news releases.