Sanchez Vs. Eli (August 17, 2010)

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Before getting to whether the Giants or Jets rule in New Meadowlands Stadium and which team dominates the nearby nutty fanbase, the starting quarterbacks in this preseason quick-draw instantly learned both were bulls-eyes. That is the axis now of the NFL game -- you can banter about schemes and coaching and diva playmakers but, if your quarterback is not a riser, your team is a dud.


Thus, it was peculiar to see here on Monday night how it started for the Jets' Mark Sanchez and the Giants' Eli Manning. On his first pass of the game, Sanchez was picked by the Giants' new safety, Antrel Rolle. It was a bad Sanchez pass, late and behind running back LaDainian Tomlinson, and Rolle snatched it and ran 59 yards to the Jets' 1-yard line.

For Sanchez, a hard knock.

"The second play of your season and you get that?’ Sanchez asked, which is exactly what most watching were thinking.

Manning took it on the chin much tougher. A vicious hard knock.

There was 10:40 left in the second quarter when Giants running back Brandon Jacobs collided with Manning, which led to Jets linebacker Calvin Pace crushing Manning, which led to Manning colliding with Jets safety Jim Leonhard. Manning's helmet flew. Blood spewed from his forehead thanks to the Leonhard clash.

It was a three-inch gash that required 12 stitches. Giants team doctors promptly sent him home well before the game ended.

Sanchez stuck around and drove the Jets to a 13-10 halftime lead. The Giants won the second-half backups exercise and the game, 31-16.

Manning issued a statement before he exited and in it took blame for the play and said he felt like he could "go back out and play right now if I had to."

Sanchez said of the ugly splat: "Wow. I asked and they said he was OK. I've never seen that before. At first, you were really worried something bad had happened because of the blood that was there. But he's going to be OK."

It's the Jets who are featured on HBO's series "Hard Knocks," but both of these quarterbacks are in for a rough-and-tumble season. The Jets are surrounded by hype artfully self-generated and the Giants are yearning to strike again with a core of players who only three Super Bowls ago won it all.

They expect Eli Manning to get up again, bloodied and all, and deliver.

Here is something to ponder: 25 NFL scouts were at this game. That means only five teams were not and that the Giants and Jets have the attention of this league. I asked four of them this question: it's opening day, you are running the offensive scheme you run, you have the players you have, and which one of these quarterbacks -- Sanchez or Manning -- would you want to take your best shot with in 2010?

And while their word isn't the final one, it's the right one. Sanchez won, 3-1.

Sanchez, the guy in his second pro season, vs. Manning, the player entering his seventh with a Super Bowl ring and MVP already in tow.

A sampling of the comments: "Sanchez has that 'it' you want in your quarterback. ... Manning has done it, I'll take that. ... Sanchez can take a bad play and make it into a good play with his mobility. ... Sanchez has the upside not just in the future, but in this upcoming season.’

Are you surprised?

I am not. You can see it, clearly, when the two quarterbacks are on the same field.

And when you look at the weapons that Sanchez is working with this season, clearly, they are more potent than Manning's. The Giants' top three receivers are not on par with the Jets' Santonio Holmes, Braylon Edwards and Jerricho Cotchery. The Jets have more fluid and effective pass-catching tight ends. Their running backs and their offensive line is equal to the Giants, maybe, overall, a touch better.

And evident with Sanchez, this time around, is he appears eager to bounce back from mistakes, ready to move on to the next play and create a better one. He has thicker skin. He will need it.

All effective quarterbacks have that trait -- an energy that spreads across the team. It is one reason Sanchez is headed for a bigger season than Manning in New York "He goes in the lab," Holmes said of his quarterback after something goes awry. "He wants this to be his team, so, he has to step into his time. He's doing it. He has to trust us, his teammates, because he doesn't have to do everything. But he's the energy. Guys love to play off him."

All effective quarterbacks have that trait -- an energy that spreads across the team.

It is one reason Sanchez is headed for a bigger 2010 season than Manning in New York.

Both quarterbacks face brutal defenses early and late. For Manning, his first quartet of defenses is Carolina, Indianapolis, Tennessee and Chicago. In a late-season stretch, he battles these defenses in consecutive weeks: Minnesota, Philadelphia and Green Bay. None of that is a snooze.

Sanchez starts against Baltimore, New England and Miami. He gets Minnesota and Green Bay, too, before the season's halfway mark. Late for him is New England again and Pittsburgh and Chicago. Stiff stuff.

Sanchez is suited for the short haul and the long one.

It's the quickness of his feet as much as the strength of his arm. It's the "it."

"I love this stadium and the way the fans are right on you," Sanchez said. "It was good to see the whole stadium lit up green."

Sanchez is expected to provide the electricity.

by Thomas George


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