Maybe this was all part of their plan.
Maybe Woody Johnson, Mike Tannenbaum, Rex Ryan and Tony Sparano all knew that Tim Tebow would not have the biggest impact on the field, but his presence would be exactly the type of pressure Mark Sanchez needed to elevate his game.
For one game, plus the opening drive in the second game, Sanchez made people forget about the five-month circus that has surrounded Gang Green since they acquired Tebow, the most famous backup quarterback in the history of the NFL.
In defense of the Jets’ brass, they never said there was a quarterback controversy, even as badly as the New York headline writers wanted one. It was always clear that Tebow was the Jets’ backup quarterback who would allow the team to employ the “Wildcat,” a set of plays that Ryan and Sparano are very fond of, and have a role on Mike Westhoff’s special-teams units.
Yet, despite all that, one of the most common questions asked this summer was, “When will Tebow take over as the Jets’ starting quarterback?” Sanchez had to answer more questions about Tebow than himself. He took it in stride and came out in Week One and looked poised, throwing three touchdown passes in a 48-28 win over the Bills. Tebow? He was on the field for 10 offensive snaps and four special-teams plays. He had five carries for 11 yards and zero pass attempts.
In Week Two, Sanchez marched the Jets downfield on their first offensive possession, completing 4-of-5 passes, including a 14-yard touchdown strike to Santonio Holmes, capping off a 90-yard drive. Tebow’s first offensive snap came with 8:39 left in the third quarter, and he gained 22 yards on his one and only carry.
And that’s probably the way it should be.
Granted, things fell apart for Sanchez and the Jets’ offense after that first drive, as they didn’t manage another touchdown and he completed only 6-of-22 passes the rest of the way. As bad as the Jets’ offense looked, though, no one looked at that game thinking that making Tebow the starter is the answer. The Steelers are a formidable opponent, and the Tebow package certainly is not a solution for the Jets when playing from behind.
What Tebow has indirectly done is put real pressure on Sanchez, something the fourth-year pro never felt from veteran Mark Brunell. As shaky as things got for Sanchez in recent years because of inconsistent play and poor decision making, which led to backbreaking turnovers — especially during the Jets’ unraveling at the end of last season — there was never a question who would start under center in 2012. Ryan had Brunell run some practices with the first team last year, causing a stir, but no one expected a 41-year-old whose best years were behind him would take the job from Sanchez, and, at least through two weeks, it’s not realistic to expect Tebow to start, nor would it be ideal.
If you looked at Tebow’s quarterback stats with tunnel vision, ignoring his running abilities and his name, it’s remarkable that he is even a No. 2 quarterback. Sanchez also knows what happened in Denver last season, when Tebow took over for Kyle Orton, as John Elway’s club satisfied the cries from Tebow’s ridiculously large fan base. In the media hotbed of New York, it wouldn’t take much for Tebow to gain similar support should Sanchez struggle.
The Jets may have given Sanchez a contract extension, and they may be saying all the right things about Sanchez being the starter, but his margin for error seems smaller because of who’s behind him.
The New York Daily News reported last week that Tebow likely would request a trade if his limited role continues, and from the early indications, that wouldn’t affect the Jets’ offense too much.
There’s a hell of a lot more to playing quarterback than simply feeling extra pressure from a backup, and Sanchez has shown he is able to be a good NFL quarterback, he just hasn’t done it consistently enough. The Jets might be 1-1, and the offense has room for improvement, but this is an ideal situation for the quarterbacks — Sanchez is the starter, Tebow is the change-of-pace gimmick, and nothing more, at least for now.
While some might be surprised with Tebow’s limited snaps early on, it’s very possible this is the way the Jets envisioned things when trading for the fan favorite. If the Summer of Tebow added motivation for Sanchez, and if it results in a strong campaign because he always has to be looking over his shoulder, then kudos to the orchestrators of what has been called a “circus,” especially if this was the plan for Tebow all along.