Most prognosticators broke down the crucial Giants-Jets matchup on Christmas Eve in the following way: both teams have been inconsistent and it's a must-win for both teams. They are evenly matched, so it will likely come down to quarterback play, and Eli Manning is clearly better than Mark Sanchez, so the Giants will win.
And that's exactly what happened. In a game full of errors, Sanchez made more than Manning, and the Jets now need a New Year's miracle to make the playoffs.
But it didn't need to come down to Sanchez vs. Manning to give the Jets hope for the playoffs. Peyton Manning and Tom Brady are on another planet when it comes to quarterback play, but Sanchez's Jets beat the Colts and Patriots, respectively, en route to a second-straight AFC Championship appearance last season. In Sanchez's four playoff wins, he has averaged 23.5 passing attempts.
For the past three seasons, the Jets have won with Sanchez, not because of him.
After a 29-14 loss that summed up their season, Rex Ryan's bravado about his team and his quarterback are under fire, along with offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, who may be run out of town.
Schottenheimer is either to blame for his play-calling that turns Sanchez into a QB that he's not, or the scapegoat for a team that has crumbled around Sanchez, putting the pressure on the third-year signalcaller to do what the elite quarterbacks can do and put the team on his back.
The Jets' formula for victory over the last three seasons is not difficult to understand, and even when this was supposed to be the year Sanchez broke out at the quarterback position, they have still won games mainly thanks to the run. The team averages over five more run plays a game in wins than losses this season.
Sanchez chucked the ball 59 times in the loss to the Giants, the third-highest total in the NFL this season.
"That's a lot of throwing the football," veteran RB LaDainian Tomlinson said.
The Jets opened the third quarter trailing the Giants 10-7, and what did they do on the opening drive? Three consecutive pass plays. Three consecutive incompletions. Punt. As we have seen with Gang Green often this season, they abandoned the run when they didn't need to.
It's not just the play-calling that has put Sanchez in holes he can't dig the team out of. He has been sacked 37 times this season — 10 more than last season's career-high of 27. The defense, which is a Rex Ryan staple, is 22nd in the league in points allowed. The normally reliable special-teams unit has had its fair share of gaffes. Sanchez's supporting cast has not done him any favors.
That may be the quarterback apologist in me speaking, but with Sanchez it's a little different, because we have seen the Jets have so much success despite Sanchez's mediocre quarterback play, highlighted by a career completion percentage of 55.1 and his eight lost fumbles this season.
The fact that Sanchez's mistakes have been the difference in multiple losses this season tells you that the Jets rely more on his arm than they should. Considering how much the team has invested in Sanchez, vocally and financially, a change isn't likely in 2012. But if Ryan plans to continue to predict a Super Bowl for his team, he may want to reconsider going all in on his quarterback.