Updated: Dec 25, 2011 09:58 PM
By BOB GLAUBER
With his team facing a worthy NFC foe on Christmas Eve and a playoff spot hanging in the balance, the quarterback produced a miserable performance in a blowout loss, leading to increasing questions about whether he truly is the long-term answer for the franchise.
He had been acquired in a blockbuster first-round trade three years earlier, but the wretched showing in the next-to-last game of the season created even more uncertainty about his future. There was a growing consensus from the fans -- and even many in the pro football personnel community -- that the quarterback might amount to nothing more than the latest NFL bust.
Mark Sanchez ?
No, Eli Manning .
Go back exactly five years to the day, and you'll see that Manning was coming off an atrocious showing in a 30-7 loss to the Saints in New Orleans. He was 9-for-25 for 74 yards, one touchdown and an interception. The Giants fell to 7-8, Tom Coughlin 's job was on the line, and only a win over the Redskins in the final week of the season would put them in the playoffs and get Coughlin into the 2007 season as head coach.
The Giants got that win, but not before Coughlin made a bold move that ultimately benefited his franchise quarterback.
With major questions swirling about how the Giants were handling the play-calling for Manning, Coughlin replaced offensive coordinator John Hufnagel with quarterbacks coach Kevin Gilbride , who previously had called plays for Coughlin in Jacksonville.
A year later, Coughlin, Manning and the Giants won the Super Bowl .
Now it's time for Rex Ryan to make a similarly bold move and replace Brian Schottenheimer with offensive line coach Bill Callahan .
With Sanchez struggling to take the next step in his development and with Schottenheimer's inconsistent play-calling adding to the problem, Ryan needs to take decisive action and turn to Callahan, a former offensive play-caller who led the 2002 Raiders to Super Bowl XXXVII with journeyman quarterback Rich Gannon .
Ryan might not consider the timing right to make that change for this week's game against the Dolphins because of his fierce loyalty to Schottenheimer, who might wind up as a candidate for Miami's head-coaching position. But the Jets' third-year head coach needs to find a better answer for dealing with Sanchez, who is coming off one of the most ineffective performances in his three years with the Jets.
Sanchez threw two interceptions, was sacked for a safety, fumbled once and had two other fumbles reversed by replay review in a 29-14 loss to the Giants on Saturday. The Jets' chances of making the playoffs now are perilously thin.
But it's not just the fact that the Jets lost; it's the way they lost as it related to Schottenheimer's play-calling and a continuing pattern of failing to get the most out of his young quarterback.
Like Hufnagel with Manning five years ago, Schottenheimer isn't putting Sanchez in the best position to succeed. The fact that he had Sanchez drop back a whopping 64 times -- 64! -- against a Giants team that features the best pass-rushing defensive line in the game was stunning. Especially when the Jets' running game was performing so well, especially on inside runs that attacked the Giants' defensive tackles.
Sanchez wound up being sacked five times, was hit hard on several other occasions after releasing the ball and couldn't sustain the Jets' offense late in the game.
He may be the NFL 's most prolific comeback quarterback of the last two seasons with 10 wins in the final quarter or overtime, but not getting his 11th against the Giants -- or leading the Jets to a victory of any kind -- was a huge miss.
Questions now are swirling about whether Sanchez really is the future of the franchise or whether the team will consider other alternatives. Some have suggested trading for Peyton Manning if he's available, but the Jets have been down this road before with Brett Favre . Not only that, but there's no guarantee that Manning, who has had three neck surgeries in the last two seasons, can continue much longer.
You want to draft another quarterback and spend another three years waiting for him to develop? With very few viable alternatives on the free-agent or trade markets, there isn't much out there.
The feeling here is that Ryan needs to go with Callahan and install the simpler, higher-percentage passing game of his West Coast offense before scrapping the Sanchez era altogether.
It may be that Sanchez isn't the answer. But it also may be that he's not in a system that allows him to flourish the way Gannon, a fourth-round pick in 1987, once did for Callahan.
It's easier -- and better -- to change a coach to see if he can fix the quarterback. Whether it's this week or next, when the Jets might be out of the playoff picture, it's time for Ryan to make his move.
After another Christmas Eve nightmare showing, it's time to see if he can do for Sanchez what Coughlin did for Manning.