Breaking Down Mark Sanchez's Clutch Drives for New York Jets

Erik Frenz@ErikFrenzSenior Writer ISeptember 24, 2012

Sept 23, 2012;  Miami, FL, USA; New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez (6) drops back to pass against the Miami Dolphins during the first quarter at Sun Life Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE
Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE

If only Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez played as well for 60 minutes as he does at times when the game is on the line, he could be one of the elite quarterbacks of the game.

It seems like the bigger the moment, the better Sanchez becomes

Prior to the clutch fourth-quarter performance, the five second-half drives ended as such: interception in the end zone, three-and-out, field goal, three-and-out, punt. 

Thus, even though the Jets started with favorable field position on both drives (Jets 47- and 38-yard lines) thanks to two missed field goals by Dolphins kicker Dan Carpenter, there were no assurances made that the Jets would win.

They pulled off the win thanks to another clutch performance by Sanchez, whose moxie in late-game situations has been a saving grace for what has otherwise been a tumultuous tenancy in East Rutherford, N.J.

Final Drive, Fourth Quarter

This is the drive that sent the game into overtime. Sanchez went 3-of-5 for 40 yards and the touchdown to give the Jets a 20-17 lead with under three minutes to go in the game.

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Two of Sanchez's three completions went to Holmes for a total of 33 yards. The bigger of the two was an 18-yard reception on the first play of the drive.

The Jets came out in a single back formation with the 11 personnel grouping—one running back, one tight end and three wide receivers. Holmes manned the slot, with Stephen Hill and Chaz Schilens lined up on the outsides. The Dolphins responded to the extra receiver by sending out their nickel package with four defensive linemen. 

The offensive line gave Sanchez room to breathe, which wasn't the case at all points of the day, but was one of the shining elements to their late-game push.

Holmes' route-running savvy was on full display, as he got behind cornerback Jimmy Wilson and in front of safety Chris Clemons while making his break on the route.

That created a window for Sanchez to throw the ball, where only Holmes could get it, with no one directly in front of Holmes to take the ball. This is still a great throw by Sanchez; if he throws it a little too far ahead of Holmes, there's a chance it could be picked off with Clemons lurking behind Holmes. 

The Jets got off to a great start with the ball on their own 47-yard line, moving all the way to the Dolphins' 35-yard line.

The absence of Dustin Keller gave way to an increased workload for Holmes, and when Keller comes back, that will only add another weapon with route-running savvy and chemistry with Sanchez.

The touchdown throw to Jeremy Kerley was impressive as well.

On a gut-check 3rd-and-1 from the 7-yard line, the Jets lined up in the shotgun with an extra wide receiver. Both Santonio Holmes and Jeremy Kerley ran slant routes at the top of the screen, with wide receiver Chaz Schilens running an in-route at the bottom.

The Dolphins sent a heavy blitz at Sanchez, and the Jets were ready for it. They gave Sanchez a nice pocket once again.

Sanchez made a great quick read on the blitz, delivering a quick strike over the middle to Kerley, whose slant route cut underneath the coverage from cornerback Jimmy Wilson. With no underneath coverage in front of the throw, this was an easy pitch-and-catch.

The Jets finished second in red-zone scoring percentage last year, converting 65.4 percent of their red-zone opportunities into touchdowns. Sanchez scored 27 touchdowns on 94 plays from inside the 20 (28.7 percent) and was among the best in the league in the red zone in 2011, throwing more touchdowns than Eli ManningPhilip RiversTony Romo and Ben Roethlisberger.

His passer rating of 86.1 from inside the 20 is another indication of just how good Sanchez can be in big situations. He wasn't perfect in the red zone against the Dolphins, throwing an ugly interception on Sunday, but he has classically been one of the league's best in the red zone, and he showed why with this throw.

Final Drive, Overtime

The Jets started with favorable field position again after Carpenter shanked another field goal from the 38-yard line.

This drive was rather short, with Sanchez going 2-for-2 passing for 44 yards, with 38 yards coming on a deep strike to Holmes.

On 2nd-and-4, the Jets lined up in the off-set "I" formation with two backs, one tight end and two wide receivers. The Dolphins responded with a base 4-3 defensive set.

Once again, the offensive line gave Sanchez a great pocket to stand in and find the open receiver. 

He saw Holmes running a fly pattern right past Dolphins cornerback Richard Marshall, who was caught holding Holmes as the receiver tried to get past him. 

Despite being held, Holmes continued to break down the field and caught the pass in stride down the sideline. 

These are three big-league plays by Sanchez, with great catches on the other end. The chemistry between Sanchez and Holmes has been a hot topic all offseason, but in one of their first true tests of comraderie, Sanchez and Holmes rose to the challenge.

The continuing trend, though, was the great protection Sanchez got from his offensive line. Even the best quarterbacks need a good pocket, and Sanchez had it time after time late in the game. If the Jets want to continue to win close games the way they did against Miami, that kind of protection will have to be a continuing trend.

Erik Frenz is the AFC East lead blogger for Bleacher Report. Be sure to follow Erik on Twitter and "like" the AFC East blog on Facebook to keep up with all the updates. Unless specified otherwise, all quotes are obtained firsthand. 

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