Mark Sanchez played one series and then took a seat on the bench for the rest of the New York Jets' 38-7 Week 17 win over the Buffalo Bills. The win gives the Jets an 11-5 record, just the fourth time in franchise history that the team has won at least 11 games in a season.
The Jets have the sixth and final playoff spot in the AFC. They will face the Indianapolis Colts on the road in the first round, a rematch of last year's AFC Championship game.
The Jets however clinched their spot in the playoffs after the Jacksonville Jaguars lost in Week 16 to the Washington Redskins. The Jets therefore had the "luxury" of resting some of their key players in Week 17 against Buffalo.
There is an age old question in the NFL regarding whether to rest or play starters in Week 17 games when there is nothing more a team can earn. Some people believe you should rest your starters and allow injuries to heal; others believe you should play your starters and gain momentum, citing the 2007 Giants who played their starters with nothing to gain in Week 17 and used that momentum to win the Super Bowl.
There is no correct answer or strategy. Both have been tried, both have worked and both have failed. The correct option really depends on the situation. There was one year where every team who rested their starters lost their first playoff game. Last season, both the Saints and Colts rested their starters and reached the Super Bowl.
The Jets chose an interesting strategy. They chose to rest certain key players, but opted to start second-year QB Mark Sanchez and give him a limited amount of playing time.
The Jets rested several key players, including starting cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie, and their top two running backs, LaDainian Tomlinson and Shonn Greene.
Resting those four players was a good move for the Jets. All four are a little banged up and could use the week off. The rest could give Tomlinson a chance to get his legs back under him and be ready to make a strong playoff run.
Resting both running backs gave the Jets the chance to let rookie Joe McKnight show what he could do. What he showed was that when he is in shape he could actually play, and could be a weapon that the Jets could use in the playoffs.
Meanwhile, resting Cromartie and Revis gave the Jets defensive backs a chance for an open audition for playing time in the playoffs. The extra playing time gave the lesser known players a chance to show the coaching staff what they could do, which is especially important for a team whose defense became scary bad these past few weeks.
But the biggest news for the Jets was that they were going to start Mark Sanchez at quarterback, despite having a sore right shoulder.
The move sparked controversy across the New York sports radio stations, with many people feeling Sanchez shouldn't play at all and rest the sore shoulder.
Sanchez ended up playing for nine plays, attempting zero passes before coming out of the game. He played one series and was then rested, and that was a terrible decision by the New York Jets coaching staff.
Mark Sanchez hurt his shoulder at some point during the Jets' Week 15 game against the Steelers. He looked very good in that game, especially after coming off several bad outings before that. The next week he went to Chicago, where he looked very good again. Sanchez entered Week 17 riding some very strong momentum—momentum that you would want to keep going into the playoffs.
After the game, Jets head coach Rex Ryan said they played him for one series, allowing to keep him (Sanchez) to keep his rhythm and momentum, and then they took him out to protect his shoulder.
If only that were true.
Playing one series and handing the ball off on every play is far from keeping yourself in a rhythm and keeping your momentum. Unfortunately for the Jets, when Mark Sanchez hasn't had a chance to keep his rhythm this season, it has been a disaster.
Three times this season the Jets have had extended breaks before games. Week 1, then again in Week 8 after their bye week, and then after Thanksgiving in Week 13.
In those three games following extended breaks, Mark Sanchez and the Jets offense was terrible. The Jets lost all three games and combined to score just 12 points.
While it would be great if Sanchez could have the opportunity to rest his shoulder, his shoulder did not look to be bothering him that much a week ago in Chicago. Playing one series and running the ball on every play does not exactly count as playing in Week 17 and keeping your momentum.
The Jets would have been much better off playing Sanchez for three quarters Sunday, allowing him to throw the ball and actually rack up completions and yardage against a bad Buffalo defense. That would have allowed to keep the good momentum he had coming in.
Instead, the Jets will face Indianapolis in the first round of the playoffs with a quarterback who is coming off a two week break, who has struggled with long breaks this season.