The first pass Mark Sanchez fluttered into the air in Monday night’s preseason contest at Baltimore was enough of a sample to support the Jets’ concerns about their rookie quarterback tip-toeing in the rough waters of the NFL.
It was also another reason for New York to turn its desperate eyes toward one of the few capable veterans on the club, running back Thomas Jones.
Sanchez struggled in his first career start, completing just 3-of-8 passes for 43 yards in a 24-23 loss to the Ravens. The largest indictment, however, of Baltimore’s suffocating defensive scheme came on the rookie’s first attempt of the evening, which 345-pound defensive tackle Haloti Ngata picked off and ran back for a 25-yard touchdown just five seconds in.
Many believe the Jets will be able to contend with a first-year player calling the shots, and rightfully so considering a strong defensive depth chart and capable running game have generated a distinctive buzz around the swamps of the Meadowlands.
But just how much faith can Gang Green invest in Jones to anchor a team in desperate need of a reliable offensive spark?
Fellow backs Leon Washington and rookie Shonn Greene provide electricity and youth, though neither has yet to showcase a knack for taking over a game like Jones has. Until it happens, the old guy is the guy.
An obvious factor that could hamper the 2008 Pro Bowler is his age. Jones turned 31 last week, and many prognosticators subscribe to a theory that states running backs over the age of 29 suffer from a severe decline in production.
In actuality, though, Jones hasn’t accumulated an alarming amount of miles on his odometer. Over his nine-year career, Jones has carried the ball 300 times just twice, while surpassing the 250 mark four times.
Coming off his fourth consecutive 1,000-yard campaign, Jones clearly established himself as a defining member of the Jets last season. New York was 7-2 when Jones scored, 0-2 when he fumbled, and dropped two of three contests in which he failed to reach 50 rushing yards.
Though many are shrugging off Jones’ turbulent off-season, during which he openly criticized Brett Favre, complained about his contract and held out for much of the team’s voluntary workouts in the spring, it’s crucial he stays motivated.
Jones is due $900,000 after earning $13.1 million in his first two years with New York. Perhaps the drive to ink another lucrative deal will propel the former Virginia standout to excel, just like last year.
Surely, Jones will be sorely needed, especially if Monday was a foreshadowing of what is to come.
After fizzling in the early stages of the game, Sanchez eventually recouped by punctuating a 64-yard drive with a 19-yard touchdown pass to Washington late in the second quarter.
It still wasn’t enough to end the starting quarterback race with Kellen Clemens convincingly, as Clemens also finished with a touchdown and interception.
The positive outcome of Sanchez’s most impressive series of the night confirmed what we should expect: inconsistency.
Needless to say, Jones and his stable (and somewhat abbreviated) track record give the Jets an antidote for that dooming characteristic.
Ironically, that may need to happen this year.