Jets 24-Texans 7: The Mark Sanchez Era Starts with a Bang

Malcolm DiazCorrespondent ISeptember 14, 2009

HOUSTON - SEPTEMBER 13: Running back Thomas Jones #20 of the New York Jets celebrates with quarterback Mark Sanchez #6 and center Nick Mangold #74 after scoring on a 38 yard run in the fourth quarter at Reliant Stadium on September 13, 2009 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)

He entered the game a question mark and may well have left it a hero. New York Jets rookie QB Mark Sanchez led his team to a dominating victory over the Houston Texans.

Mark Sanchez played through his NFL debut as the first Week 1 rookie starter in New York Jets history with the poise of a seasoned vet. Going 18 of 31 for 272 yards, one touchdown, and one interception, Sanchez literally picked apart the Houston defense, throwing his first NFL touchdown in the second quarter when he found Chansi Stuckey wide open on a 30-yard reception to put the Jets up 10-3.

As was expected, the first offensive series was a bit rocky, generating a three-and-out. Fortunately, things got much better from there. Houston seemed to have a simple game plan: stack the box and force the rookie to win with his arm. Much to the Texans dismay, Mark Sanchez did not disappoint.

Faced with Houston’s pressure defense, the rookie showcased an ability to extend plays with his feet, an ability that kept the defense from registering a single sack on the slippery rookie. Sanchez demonstrated keen awareness of not only his surroundings, but of the field ahead of him as well.

Mark Sanchez also proved to be a conversion machine on third downs, converting more than 50 percent of his attempts. This allowed the Jets to rack up more than 38 minutes of possession time.

I tip my hat to Brian Schottenheimer for brilliant play calling on third downs, allowing the rookie to complete simple passes in key situations and building his confidence in the process.

Sanchez’s only mistake came in the fourth quarter, when he was intercepted by John Busing.  Busing immediately fumbled, but the football was picked up by Houston’s Dominique Barber, who ran 48 yards down the right sideline for a touchdown that made it 17-7 with about 12 minutes left in the game.

Standing strong where many rookies would falter, Sanchez would ice the game with a strong touchdown run in his next possession.

The running game struggled early, thanks to Houston stacking the box against the run early on, but once Sanchez proved to be a force to be reckoned with, things got much better on that front, too. Thomas Jones would have 20 runs for 107 yards and two touchdowns. Definitely not a bad day at the office.

Leon Washington added 60 yards on the ground while showing a little razzle dazzle from the Seminole formation. Washington would end the game with 84 total yards and 19 total touches. There is little doubt the young running back will be the talk of the town as the season progresses.

The Jets wide receivers showed they can play, too. Sanchez was able to spread the ball around to his receivers, hitting Jerricho Cotchery with six receptions for 90 yards, tight end Dustin Keller with four for 94, and Chansi Stuckey with four for 64 and the game's only touchdown strike through the air.

Keller proved to be a matchup nightmare for Houston, burning man coverage badly in the third quarter for 40 yards on a key third-down play. Every great QB has his favorite target, and Dustin Keller is looking to be it for Mark Sanchez.

Then there was the New York defense. In a word, the Jets defense was "stifling." Rex Ryan’s new defense held Houston’s high-powered offense hostage, allowing the Texans to cross the 50-yard line only once in three quarters.

Appearing to be flying all over the field, the Jets defense made Houston QB Matt Schaub struggle, as he completed just 18 of 33 passes for 166 yards with no touchdowns and an interception.

Star WR Andre Johnson was effectively shut down by New York cornerback Darelle Revis, barely reaching 35 yards receiving.

Houston’s running game was almost none existent, with RB Steve Slaton being held to a measly 17 yards on 9 carries. In fact, Houston would gain only 183 total yards in the game.

Kris Jenkins looked like a man among babes, often bowling over the competition, conjuring images of a young Reggie White. Jenkins keeps up this level of play throughout the year and many a QB will suffer his wrath.

Also on my radar this game was David Harris. Harris had six tackles, one sack, and one pass broken up against Andre Davis. Davis seemed a little too concerned about getting drilled by Harris and dropped the ball. Along with Bart Scott, Harris will long be on the collective minds of defensive coordinators everywhere.

Pound for pound, this team performed brilliantly. I would go so far as to say they surpassed expectations with this first win. This early victory has set the pace entering next week’s home opener against the dreaded New England Patriots.

This game has done much more than just add an all-important notch in the win column for the Jets. It has provided the momentum and confidence needed to march on into a fierce rivalry game with one of the most dominant teams in recent history.

Watch out, New England...Rex Ryan’s Jets are coming!