FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez labored through one of the worst games of his brief professional career in front of the entire country on Sunday night.
The New England Patriots are hoping to make it two duds in a row.
One week after two of his three lost fumbles and an interception were returned by the Baltimore defense for touchdowns in the Ravens’ 34-17 win, Sanchez will try and erase any lingering memories of that national nightmare when he tests his hand at dissecting the worst pass defense in the league.
The Patriots (3-1), however, aren’t expecting a similar performance from the third-year quarterback of the Jets (2-2), who has won three of five career meetings against them, including last season’s stunning 28-21 victory in the divisional playoffs.
“One thing that we can’t do is look at that game, and say, ‘You know what, the Jets, they’re not the Jets — they’re going to do this, they’re going to do that, they can’t do this.’ Because each week it changes,” New England nose tackle Vince Wilfork said Thursday. “You really can’t go about last performance.
“I think we’re going to get their best shot. I really do because the same guys that (are) over there are the same guys that played us last year, the same guys that beat us three out of the five times we’ve played them. This team is definitely a good football team. Let’s not get that wrong.”
The Jets (2-2) are better, though, when All-Pro center Nick Mangold is snapping the ball to Sanchez.
Mangold was limited in practice Wednesday after missing a second straight game on Sunday due to a high-ankle sprain. His absence paid dividends early and often for Baltimore’s havoc-happy defense.
“He’s probably one of the best offensive lineman in the game. He’s definitely a leader on that team for them,” Wilfork said. “I’m pretty sure that they would love for him to play because I think he gives them a spark.
“It’s absolutely a difference when he’s in and when he’s not in.”
It took all of one play by the Jets on Sunday to realize that.
Safety Ed Reed stripped Sanchez of the ball on New York’s first offensive play of the game, allowing Jameel McClain to scoop up the fumble and go six yards for the touchdown. Jarret Johnson later took advantage of another Sanchez strip sack and fumble, scoring from 26 yards out in the second quarter, and Lardarius Webb delivered the dagger in the third, providing the final margin with hi s 73-yard interception return for a score.
Jets coach Rex Ryan insisted on a conference call Wednesday that the poor performance had more to do with Baltimore’s perennially potent defense — one he laid the foundation for during his 10-year tenure as Ravens’ defensive coordinator — and less to do with Sanchez, who finished 11-of-35 for 119 yards.
“I think we were almost close to a 65-percent completion rate going into that last game and that last game was a rough one to say the least. You can put (Patriots quarterback) Tom Brady back there (and) he was going to struggle that day,” Ryan said. “The pressure, the constant pressure and consistent pressure that Baltimore was able to put on us really disrupted what we were trying to get accomplished. I think Mark has improved, I really do. I think he’s better now than he has ever been.”
The struggling Patriots defense needs to be if it hopes to slow Sanchez.
New England is last in the league in passing yards allowed at 368.8 per game, not much of a shock with its inexperienced and youthful secondary. The surprise, though, comes up front, where the Patriots are tied for 25th with just six sacks, four stemming from a beefed up defensive line packed with close to 1,000 pounds of veteran leadership during the offseason.
The additions of defensive ends Andre Carter and former Jet Shaun Ellis, as well as mercurial tackle Albert Haynesworth, who has played in just one game so far, were supposed to make the Patriots one of the better pass-rushing teams in the league.
Yet despite the first two interceptions of Wilfork’s career, all that weight hasn’t translated into heavier production.
“I think Vince should probably move to safety. That might be the next move for Vince,” Ryan joked. “They’re doing a great job. They do what they do. They force takeaways and they’re playing better in the red zone. Their defense is statistically — they’re never ranked way up there — it’s not like they’re one or two in the league in defense. But they’re effective and they make you make mistakes, they don’t give up the run.
“Now, I expect them to come after us more, obviously. We didn’t do a great job protecting our quarterback (against Baltimore) and I expect more pressure from New England this week.”
Wilfork expects the unit to strengthen with time.
“We don’t have anyone here saying that, ‘We’re the greatest defense, there’s nothing else we can do to get better.’ Everyone sees exactly what each other sees, that we can get better,” he said. “There’s some things that we can change and some things we can play differently that allows us to be a better defense. I think everybody’s striving for it.
“I expect good things out of this defense to come because the more we play, the better we’re going to get.”