New York Minute

August 28, 2009 1:15 PM

Sanchez and Manning Square Off

Never has a game that has meant so little meant so much for the quarterbacks in Saturday’s preseason game between the Giants and Jets.
The third preseason game is always the most critical of NFL schedule, because it is when the starters get the most reps. The final preseason game is almost pointless, because teams rarely let starters play more than one or two series for a fear of injuries.
So it is that tomorrow’s 8 p.m. contest is important not only for Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez, but also Giants quarterback Eli Manning. There is much more at stake for Sanchez, the highly-heralded rookie from USC who was anointed the starter earlier this week by coach Rex Ryan. But Manning will also be under pressure to perform, if for no other reason than to show he’s still the top quarterback in town.
Sanchez got his first start on Monday against the Ravens and looked shaky. His first pass was returned for a touchdown and he completed 3-of-8 attempts for 43 yards and one touchdown
It came as no surprise that Ryan decided to go with the rookie Sanchez over four-year veteran Kellen Clemens, who was also competing for the starting job. Of course, the competition was like the Globetrotters going up against the Washington Generals. The outcome was pretty much decided when training camp began, despite what Ryan or anyone else connected with the Jets will say. Now, Sanchez has to go out and prove he was worth taking as the No. 5 pick in April’s draft.
“This comes with a lot of responsibility,” Sanchez said on “I know as happy as I am, this is just the beginning and I’m really excited to get the chance to play with such great players.”
Sanchez won’t be able to do it by himself. He’ll need a strong running game led by Leon Washington and a veteran offensive line that should be one of the team’s strengths. The Jets also need to improve on the defensive side of the ball, and they should under Ryan and his aggressive schemes.
Look for the Jets to play a lot of their games like last year’s Ravens’ team, where Ryan was an assistant, and the team used its running attack to take the pressure of rookie quarterback Joe Flacco.
Manning’s situation is altogether different. He’s now the highest paid player in the NFL, and is in his fifth full season as the team’s starter. He already has a Super Bowl victory in his pocket, and is clearly the face of the franchise.
But there is also pressure on him to perform well in the contest against the Jets. Sure it’s preseason, but neither team likes to lose this game. If Manning struggles and gets outplayed by Sanchez, there will be more than a few Giants fans who will wonder if Eli is worth all the money.
Manning, for his part, knows the struggles that Sanchez will face. He didn’t get the starting nod as a rookie, but he was a starter by midseason during the 2004 season.
"The hardest thing about it is learning the game," Manning said in the New York Daily News. "It takes time. The media is going to play a role because if you play well, they will promote you and say you are the greatest. If you don't play real well, then you will be the worst. It is about believing in yourself and listening to your coaches and earning the confidence and respect of your teammates. That is what you kind of have to learn."
Manning and Sanchez will face off for the first time against each other Saturday, and there is a lot riding on it for both of them. It’s rare, but it is actually a preseason game that has a compelling angle.

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