Rookie shows poise for Jets _ and its not Sanchez

Aug 25, 2009 - 7:36 AM By TIM DAHLBERG AP Sports Columnist

The rookie showed poise, making the kind of smart decisions that should win a lot of games for the New York Jets over the next few years.

His preparation was good, and his timing impeccable. Good thing, because the Jets have a lot invested in him.

Forget about Mark Sanchez for a moment. His time will come, or so Jets fans can only hope.

So far, though, Rex Ryan sure looks like the real thing.

The coach who has trouble at times keeping his mouth shut didn't need to say a lot about how the Jets are coming together under his charge. It showed Monday night on a national stage as they played tough defense and held their poise against the Baltimore Ravens, coming within a missed 2-point conversion of winning a game that could have snowballed out of control.

OK, so he hasn't coached a regular season game that counts, and is now 0-2 in games that don't count. But Ryan has already served notice he's not intimidated about the idea of going up against the best in the NFL, and my guess is his team isn't going to be intimidated by much, either.

He gave Sanchez his first start against a defense that destroys quarterbacks, rolling the dice in a bold gamble that the rookie wouldn't fold. Though Sanchez nearly did just that, he came back to throw a nice touchdown pass and left the field knowing a lot better what it will take to make himself better.

"Not the best start on Monday night, but I learned quite a bit," Sanchez said.

Ryan may be learning a few things, too, though his learning curve isn't nearly as steep after spending much of the last decade overseeing the vaunted Ravens defense. Unlike Sanchez, who had his first pass picked off for a Ravens touchdown and threw the next into the hands of Ray Lewis, Buddy Ryan's son seems quite comfortable in his first stint in control on the sidelines.

Indeed, Ryan's biggest challenge may be how to keep his own exuberance in check. He had no sooner been hired by the Jets than he declared he wasn't in the league to "kiss Bill Belichick's rings," a position he didn't back off on earlier this week.

"When I said that about Belichick, I'm just letting him know I'm not intimidated by him," Ryan said. "He's got the same position I have. We're both head coaches in this league. He just happens to have a hell of a lot more Super Bowl wins. I don't have a win. I understand that, but we're not going to tiptoe our way through this thing.

"You don't line up and beat a Bill Belichick-coached team by tiptoeing in there."

Quotes like that have already made Ryan a favorite of the New York media, which has had the added bonus this year of being able to salivate over the prospects of Sanchez becoming the greatest Jets quarterback since Joe Namath. Ultimately, though, Ryan will have to produce wins as well as quotes, and that will likely depend a lot on how Sanchez progresses this season.

That's why Ryan's biggest decision may also be his easiest. Technically there is still a quarterback competition, but unless Sanchez breaks a leg in practice this week it seems almost guaranteed he will be named the starter going into the season.

On paper it looks like a risky choice. Sanchez had only one full season playing at USC and looked overmatched in the early going against Lewis and the Ravens, while Kellen Clemens at least has the experience of some NFL games under center.

But the Jets have more than just $28 million invested in the rookie quarterback's contract. They must sell a lot of expensive seats at the new stadium they move into next year, and the hope is that Sanchez becomes the charismatic face of the franchise and sells a lot of those tickets.

Giving him the baptism of fire against the Ravens on Monday Night Football was dangerous, and Sanchez looked like a befuddled newcomer much of the time on the field. But he showed resiliency with the touchdown pass, and Ryan made the right move in taking him out after the throw.

"I'm proud of the way he responded," Ryan said. "It ain't going to be perfect; sometimes you have these type of nights."

Sanchez will have some nights like that. It's almost guaranteed when you're a rookie quarterback in the NFL.

But Sanchez will have some good nights, too, which should really give his coach something to talk about.

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Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at)ap.org






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