In a fitting finish, the New York Jets’ season folded on Monday Night Football in Nashville, amidst a flurry of fourth-quarter turnovers by quarterback Mark Sanchez, who was outshined by backup quarterback Tim Tebow in the final boxscore by default, even though Tebow also accomplished little himself.
Five turnovers (four interceptions and a fumble) by Sanchez (13-for-28, 131 yards, three sacks) including three in the final 8:44, helped the Tennessee Titans (5-9) hold on for a 14-10 victory that eliminated the Jets (6-8) from playoff contention for a second straight year following New York’s two consecutive AFC title game appearances during the start of what is thus far, a four-year era led by Sanchez and head coach Rex Ryan.
Accepting full responsibility for his performance, Sanchez said, “It doesn’t feel good hurting [my] team like that. It’s not a wining formula…I made a couple of mistakes that I shouldn’t have made again and repeated a couple of mistakes, so it doesn’t feel good, and I’ve got to learn from that.”
New York’s loss was an appropriate microcosm of the Jets’ circus of a season.
As usual, the Jets’ defense was their strong point, playing well for the most part, while allowing just 294 yards. But, Sanchez, who directed an early scoring drive, was soon taken out of his normal rhythm when he was replaced by an ineffective Tebow (three carries, 15 yards) for one short drive before Sanchez later imploded among a mountain of miscues.
Putting the Jets’ struggling offense into its proper perspective, although Tebow threw just one pass – a second-quarter incompletion – his quarterback rating of 39.6 was still seven points higher than Sanchez’s 32.6.
Initially though, Sanchez helped New York go 59 yards on its first drive to the Tennessee four-yard line, and he seemed to have a touchdown pass, but a diving catch in the end zone by tight end Jeff Cumberland (four catches, 53 yards, one touchdown) was correctly reversed when replays showed the ball hit the ground.
Instead, the Jets settled for a 22-yard field goal by kicker Nick Folk, to lead 3-0 with 4:17 left in the first quarter.
The last four New York possessions of the first half ended with a punt (three times) or a Sanchez pick (once).
Meanwhile, after taking the opening kickoff, the Titans went 50 yards for a 46-yard field goal attempt that was blocked by Muhammad Wilkerson.
A couple of Tennessee possessions later, running back Chris Johnson (21 carries, 122 yards, one touchdown), who had just 28 yards on 20 of his carries, broke through a gaping hole up the middle for a career-long 94-yard touchdown run that put the Titans up 7-3, with 8:53 remaining in the first half.
It was the fourth straight game that the Jets failed to score a touchdown in the first half.
Tennessee couldn’t do much else offensively thereafter, while punting on nine of its last 10 drive, but a late third-quarter touchdown stood up as the game-winning score thanks to New York’s inability to get out of their own way down the stretch.
Following Sanchez’s first interception, late in the first half, the Jets did something they weren’t able to do at the end of the game – take advantage of a short punt deep in the Titans’ end.
Starting at the Tennessee 35-yard line, running back Joe McKnight (four carries, 29 yards) ran for 20 yards and then another four, before fumbling on the next play. But, Sanchez recovered the loose ball, and one play later, threw a 17-yard touchdown pass to Cumberland to regain a 10-7 lead for New York with 3:19 to go in the third quarter.
The Titans took the lead back for good on their next possession though, as quarterback Jake Locker (13-for-22, 149 yards, four sacks) directed a 64-yard trip on seven plays, in just 2:59. Locker completed passes of 21, 12 and 13 yards on the drive before scoring on a second-down, 13-yard run with 20 seconds left in the period.
After the teams each punted twice to start the fourth quarter, running back Shonn Greene (13 carries, 68 yards) ran for five and then six yards for a first down, but Sanchez was intercepted on the next play, looking deep up the right side for wide receiver Braylon Edwards (three catches, 47 yards), who in Jet fashion, was playing in his first game of the season with New York after the Jets brought Edwards back for a second stint with the team only a couple of weeks after Edwards called the Jets “idiots” for letting him go the first time.
Moving his team from its own eight-yard line to the Titans’ 23-yard line, on New York’s next drive, Sanchez was again picked off at the Tennessee two-yard line on a pass intended for Cumberland.
That looked the Jets’ last real chance to pull out a win, but another short punt, of just 19 yards, gave the Jets, even without a time out remaining, a surprising golden opportunity at the Tennessee 25-yard line with 47 seconds left.
But, Sanchez, out of the shotgun, fumbled a low but catchable snap, and the Titans recovered to secure the win.
“I think the thing that really hurts the most is we’ve got no one to blame but ourselves,” said Ryan. “As big as this game [was]… to turn it over five times, and get the ball on the 25-yard line [with] a chance to win it at the end, and then to turn it over again, obviously, extremely disappointing to say the least.”
Now playing out the string instead of competing for the playoffs, New York will host the San Diego Chargers (5-9) next week, with Ryan benching both Sanchez and Tebow in favor of second-year, third-string quarterback Greg McElroy, who will get his first NFL start.
After sitting out his rookie season following a preseason injury, McElroy, in the only NFL action of his career thus far, came in for Sanchez late in the third quarter to provide the Jets’ only points on a short game-winning touchdown pass in a 7-6 Week 13 win over Arizona.