The duel between quarterbacks Mark Sanchez and Geno Smith is one of the most intriguing roster competitions in NFL training camp and the preseason, from both a local and a national perspective. The buildup to the battle in the first game was palpable.
It all came to an anticlimactic finish on Friday night, as neither quarterback did much to impress the fans or the coaching staff during a 26-17 loss to the Detroit Lions.
Sanchez was the game's starter, and his night got off to an auspicious start. He threw a pick-six on the opening drive, his third pass of the game, to rookie defensive end Ezekiel Ansah.
He bounced back from there to go a combined 9-of-10 for 125 yards and a touchdown on the next two drives.
For the most part, Sanchez gave his receivers a chance to make a play. He had a nice short pass to tight end Kellen Winslow in the flat, with "The Soldier" slipping a tackle and scampering down the sideline for some extra yards. He also had a solid third-down completion to wide receiver Jeremy Kerley which went for 24 yards and set up the New York Jets in the red zone.
Those plays were both part of an 80-yard touchdown drive capped off by a 26-yard touchdown catch by tight end Jeff Cumberland, who was as wide open as Mick Jagger's lips down the seam.
After three drives, it was Geno Smith's turn, and he started with a sharp throw to receiver Clyde Gates.
The rookie out of West Virginia went 6-of-7 for 47 yards, but the key play of the night was a one-yard scramble that ended with Smith stumbling to the ground, untouched, and then limp-jogging off the field.
Smith's injury appears to be minor, as USA Today reports. He said he would have returned to action had the game been in the regular season, and X-rays later showed that he merely rolled his right ankle.
Without the injury to Geno, who knows how the night could have ended. But despite his recovery from the pick-six, Sanchez's performance Friday night did not do him any favors.
Head coach Rex Ryan has been hammering home the concept of ball security in his press conferences for months. Sanchez has turned the ball over a league-leading 52 times (18 interceptions, eight fumbles lost in each of the past two seasons).
"I'd rather him not turn the ball over once," Ryan said during OTAs. "[Sanchez] did a lot of great things [in practice], and then those negative things, at the end of the day, that's what gets you beat. And so we got to do a better job of eliminating those turnovers."
Sanchez was unable to adhere to that simple request for even the first five plays of the game.
It was a tough break for the quarterback, with the rare zone drop for a defensive end. That's not a read a fifth-year veteran should still be missing, though.
"We had a pretty good plan on the screen," Sanchez said after the game, according to Darryl Slater of The Star-Ledger. "They threw the back down as I was trying to throw it over to him. The next thing I know, a defensive lineman jumps out and picks it off. (It was) not the ideal start, but those things happen in the course of a game."
That may be true, but Sanchez can afford to have fewer of those things happen to him in the course of any game, preseason or regular season.
Erik Frenz is also a Patriots/AFC East writer for Boston.com. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand or via team news releases.
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