A struggling artist takes up his brush

Posted Sept. 22, 2010 @ 2:42 p.m.
Posted By Tom Danyluk

Once I saw a program where they handed this chimpanzee some paint and some brushes and turned him loose on a bare canvas, just to see what would happen.

A lot of things happened. He attacked it — wild streaks of color, chaotic spatterings, drips and splotches, even brilliant sections of something that looked like art emerged from it. That's what the quarterback play of NFL Week Two looked like — a giant chimp painting.

Trent Edwards threw for 102 yards. Chad Henne got 114. The Steelers and Titans totaled 109; that was until one of the old masters (kind of), Kerry Collins, was summoned from the crypt and brought some decent QB play to the stadium. Joe Flacco was 17-of-39 passing, plus four interceptions. Favre had three passes stolen, David Garrard had four. Jason Campbell was benched. Those were the smears and the splotches.

Over in DC, however, colors flashed brightly as Matt Schaub and Donovan McNabb spent the afternoon calling in air strikes with nearly 1,000 passing yards between them. This on a day when the Redskins' safeties spent more time knocking each other silly than they did cracking the Texans' pass catchers.

And in Detroit, second-stringer Shaun Hill gave a lecture on impressionism, 335 yards of Billy Kilmer, heaving wobblers and nearly pulling the Lions out of a thick 35-17 hole.

But the brush strokes that really caught the gallery's eye were the ones by the Jets' Mark Sanchez. Sanchez had had a rough week. There weren't many believers left in New York — not after his mopey opener against the Ravens, where he looked timid and rag-armed and overmatched, and an evening of dump-off passes and flitty short gainers resulted in nine points of Jets offense. Naturally, the media fried him; then it readied for another dose of Sanchez humiliation as the Patriots rolled into the New Meadowlands Stadium for Week Two.

The Patriots, a nobility team, armed with that dresser full of championship hardware from the prior decade. A presence that still causes tension. Last week's Sports Illustrated cover gave us "Tom Brady and the Pats Take Care of Business (As Usual),"and on a sparkling Brady-to-Randy Moss hookup made it 14-7 Pats over Jets just before the half. New England had ripped 80 yards in four plays and you could sense that the Pats' offense was really starting to cook, the ESP you get when they're about to go on one of their binges, two or three scores in a flash and cutting a defense to ribbons.

Meanwhile, Sanchez had continued to play it soft and safe. His longest completion to this point had been 13 yards, and now All-Pro CB Darrelle Revis, the man assigned to Moss, was clutching a hamstring. Prime binge conditions.

Then, as the New York offense came out to close the half, 53 seconds remaining, something snapped in Sanchez's brain. The seriousness of the moment hit him and his attack instincts suddenly broke loose. Instead of handoff-Greene, handoff-Tomlinson and regroup, he went right at the Pats, as if some higher power (Namath?) had pinned him to a wall and gritted, "All right, pal … this is why they brought you here."

Sanchez was moving with authority, biting down hard into this throws and putting some real sizzle on the gun. He added a fast field goal in the final seconds, and now the halftime deficit was only four and mentally the Jets were back on good ground.

And Sanchez operated the rest of the game in that mode, a sense of composed urgency. He nailed throws to guys who weren't always open, and the whole performance ended up as a 124.3 day on the passer-rating scale.

"I don't think we really got into a groove in the first game and today we did," he remarked afterward. "We hit a couple of [longer throws]. … Sustaining drives, that was huge for us. I think the coaches' point before the game was to focus one play at a time, no matter what — a big play, an incompletion, whatever it is. Get us into 3rd-and-manageable."

But 3rd-and-manageable is not a big-boy goal for a passer. The object is to come away with consistent points and give your high-rev defense a breather, even if it means getting risky and forcing a few in there. By the end of the day, the New Yorkers had 28 points on the board, enough to put away Brady and business-as-usual New England.
Is it wise to read into Sanchez's performance? Is he starting to poke out of that comfy 3rd-and-manageable eggshell? Is he finally feeling the art of pro quarterback play?

John Unitas — or maybe it was Y.A. Tittle — one of them said you don't really become a quarterback until you go your own way and tell your coach to go to hell. The Jets' QB isn't tempered to get mouthy with Rex Ryan/Brian Schottenheimer under live-fire conditions, but last weekend he stood up and told a Belichick defense to go to hell and kept his club out of an 0-2 start. That's progress in its own way. 

On a Sunday full of splotches and QB eyesores, Mark Sanchez dumped the color-by-numbers and showed us a little artistic splash.

Tom Danyluk is an award-winning freelance writer based in Chicago. His book on pro football, "The Super '70s," is available at Amazon.com. You can contact Tom at Danyluk1@yahoo.com.