It was bound to happen.
Mark Sanchez couldn’t continue to play like he was Joe Montana week after week without suffering a setback. The Saints proved to be Sancehz’s setback on Sunday by constantly harassing the rookie into three huge mistakes in the New Orleans’ 24-14 victory at the Superdome.
Sanchez’s first mistake came early in the second quarter when Darren Sharper intercepted his pass on the goal line, then returned it 99 yards for a touchdown. Two possessions later while backed up to his own end zone, Sanchez held onto the ball too long on a 2 and 7 from the 5-yard line and was sacked by Will Smith. Remi Ayodele recovered the fumble in the end zone to give the Saints a 17-0 lead early in the second.
Down 14 points with about five minutes remaining, Sanchez made his final mistake on a desperation fourth down play in which he was once again intercepted by Sharper. For as much swagger as Sanchez had played with throughout the year, he looked like a beaten rookie on Sunday.
This loss doesn’t fall squarely on the shoulders of Sanchez, though. New York offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer didn’t do the rookie any favors by failing to offer him max protection when the Saints proved early in the game that they could generate a pass rush with only their four down linemen. On multiple occasions, Charles Grant came off the edge untouched and forced Sanchez to scramble in attempt to make something happen.
It’s great that the Jets have confidence in Sanchez to make plays in the passing game, but Schottenheimer’s play-calling was atrocious and he should re-visit how he plans on protecting his quarterback in future weeks.
For the Saints, this win further proved their elite status in the NFL. Drew Brees and the passing game was held in check throughout the game, but Pierre Thomas and the Saints’ rushing attack racked up 153 yards and often kept the chains moving. Hopefully Sean Payton was paying attention to how hard Thomas ran throughout the game, so he doesn’t continue to leave the talented back on the sidelines in short-yardage situations.
The Saints defense has improved dramatically this season. Sharper has played like a man possessed and veterans like Roman Harper and Jabari Greer have stepped up in the secondary. New Orleans’ front four is as good as anyone in the league, too.
The NFC South is the Saints to lose, if not the conference.