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NFL Preview - N.Y. Jets (6-5) at Washington (4-7)
By Lyle Fitzsimmons, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - A memo to New York Jets fans: Mark Sanchez hears you.
The inconsistent quarterback knows his 2011 season, while exhilarating in spots, has been unwatchable in others. As for those boos the Gang Green fans been sending down to him from the home field at MetLife Stadium...check.
And while the jeers may not publicly bother the third-year pro, they have gotten under the skin of some of Sanchez's teammates -- especially when they come before a game like they did against visiting Buffalo last week.
It was a reality safety Jim Leonhard called "disappointing" and cornerback Darrelle Revis termed "unfair."
And Sanchez, for his part, has been realistic about his performance thus far.
"There's nothing to do about that, except play better," he said. "That's kind of where I stand with that."
He retreats to the sanctity of the road on Sunday, when the Jets visit Washington at FedEx Field.
Sanchez's efforts have been called into heavy question as of late, after forgettable performances against visiting New England in Week 11 and the following Thursday at Denver resulted in losses that stemmed the momentum of what had been a three-game win streak for New York. The Jets are essentially in must-win mode for the season's final month to stay in the playoff mix in a muddled AFC.
New York is a game out of the conference's final Wild Card spot with five to play and would need to leapfrog the Broncos, the current No. 1 non-qualifier in the chase. The Jets are two games in back of first-place New England in the AFC East, but two losses to the Patriots in 2011 have all but squashed their chances at a first division title since 2002 and third in franchise history.
Sanchez has been widely criticized by fans and football media for not progressing the way many expected by his third season. His struggles have been magnified by the seemingly instant success generated by quarterbacks in other cities, though the Jets have reached the AFC Championship Game in each of the 2009 first-round pick's two seasons and have four road playoff wins in that stretch -- the most in the NFL for that period.
New York, the only team to make the league's postseason final four in both 2009 and 2010, got back on track with a 28-24 victory over the Bills last week in which Sanchez threw for four touchdowns to help the cause.
"Sometimes it's tough being a quarterback and all that," Jets head coach Rex Ryan said. "I don't like it, but the fans have a right to boo and cheer. What we're trying to do is work hard to give our fans a reason to cheer and sustain it."
Revis referred to Sanchez as "a strong dude." And Sanchez seems to realize the unique characteristics of fans in the league's largest and perhaps most volatile setting.
"This is the market we're in," he said. "These fans expect a lot. They expect us to win, just like we do, and we put so much pressure on ourselves that you can't let that stuff get to you. You've got to keep fighting and keep playing for the guys in this locker room."
For the Redskins, the end of a six-game losing streak with last week's road triumph over Seattle has cemented some changes in the lineup for head coach Mike Shanahan.
Rookie running back Roy Helu is now an official member of the starting offense after stellar performances in his initial two opportunities. He rushed for 41 yards and had 105 receiving against San Francisco on Nov. 6 and returned for a 162-yard day (108 rushing, 54 receiving) with a touchdown in the 23-17 defeat of the Seahawks.
"He's our starter, for sure," Shanahan said.
The win ended a skid that had cut the legs from a season that began with promise early on after a 3-1 start. Shanahan claimed his morale toward his players hadn't dipped since, but conceded that a win did a lot of good mentally.
"It's tough," he said of Washington's midseason slump. "That's what you're in this game to do, is to win. But at the same time, when you're around a football team that's giving you everything they've got, you feel good. I've been around some teams that have been on losing streaks and you didn't feel like you got the type of effort that you're hoping for. That's why I feel good about the character of this football team, and it was nice to find a way to win because they deserved to win. Our players have been working extremely hard, and hopefully we can keep it going."
The Redskins have dominated the overall series between these teams, having won eight of nine all-time matchups with the Jets and four straight games in the set. The most recent encounter took place at the Meadowlands in 2007, with Washington coming through with a 23-20 overtime triumph, and the Redskins also posted home victories over New York in both 1996 (31-16) and 2003 (16-13) during that unbeaten stretch. The Jets' lone decision over Washington did come on the road, a 3-0 triumph at RFK Stadium on Dec. 11, 1993.
Shanahan sports a 6-2 lifetime record against the Jets as a head coach, with all but one of those games occurring during his 14-year tenure with Denver from 1995-2008 and which includes a 23-10 verdict in the 1998 AFC Championship. He also led the Oakland Raiders to a win over New York in 1989. Ryan has never previously faced the Redskins or Shanahan as a head man.
WHEN THE JETS HAVE THE BALL
With last week's performance, Sanchez became the first Jets quarterback to register at least four touchdown passes in a game since Brett Favre threw six on Sept. 28, 2008. For his career, the Jets are 5-0 when Sanchez has at least three scoring passes in a game. He has a career-best 18 touchdown strikes in 2011 and recorded his 25th regular-season win as starter (25-17) last Sunday. Running back Shonn Greene (651 rushing yards) needs 116 rushing yards to surpass his career-best of 766 from 2010, while backfield mate LaDanian Tomlinson averages 93.9 yards per game on the ground in December for his career. Wide receiver Plaxico Burress is tied with San Diego's Vincent Jackson for the AFC lead with four fourth-quarter touchdown catches in 2011, while counterpart Santonio Holmes is averaging 84.3 receiving yards per game in his past three matchup against the NFC. Tight end Dustin Keller tied a career-best with two touchdown catches last week against Buffalo, while kick returner Joe McKnight leads the NFL with a 34.7-yard average this season.
On the Washington defense, linebacker Brian Orakpo has 8 1/2 sacks in nine career games against the AFC, while 2011 first-round pick Ryan Kerrigan is second among NFC rookies with six sacks on the opposite side. Kerrigan has six sacks, four forced fumbles and an interception return for a touchdown for the season and has netted four sacks in his past four games. Cornerback DeAngelo hall has an interception in both of his career meetings with the Jets. He also had an interception last week and has intercepted at least two passes in each of his eight NFL seasons. Fifth-season end Adam Carriker has five sacks among his 20 tackles.
Statistically speaking, the Jets are 15th in scoring (23.3 ppg), 24th in total yards (314.8 ypg), 21st in passing yards (214.5 ypg) and 24th in rushing (100.4 ypg). Defensively, the Redskins are 10th in points allowed (20.2 ppg), 11th in total yards allowed (330.6 ypg), 10th versus the pass (212.7 ypg) and 18th against the run (117.9 ypg).
WHEN THE REDSKINS HAVE THE BALL
Quarterback Rex Grossman won his only career start against the Jets in 2006 while then with Chicago and had a touchdown pass with zero interceptions in that game. In his career starts in which he's thrown for at least a touchdown and had no interceptions, Grossman's teams are 9-1. Last week, he completed 26- of-35 (74.3 percent) attempts for 314 yards with two scores, two interceptions and a 96.6 rating. Helu rushed for 108 yards and a touchdown against the Seahawks, his first career 100-yard game, and added seven catches for 54 yards. He leads NFC rookies with 38 receptions and is the only first-year back with 350-plus rushing yards (356) and 250-plus receiving yards (267) this season. Tight end Fred Davis ranks fourth in the NFL among players at his position with 697 receiving yards. He had a touchdown catch last week and has scored five times in his past eight December games. Wide receiver Jabar Gaffney aims for a third home game in row with a receiving touchdown and in his past two bouts against the Jets, he has 13 catches for 167 yards (83.5 per game) and a touchdown. Fellow wide receiver Anthony Armstrong had a 50-yard touchdown last week and has five career receiving scores, four of which have gone for 30 or more yards. Another wideout, veteran Donte' Stallworth, had a 21-yard touchdown catch against the Jets in 2005 while with New Orleans.
On defense, Jets linebacker Aaron Maybin had a career-high two sacks last week and leads the team with five in 2011. Inside linebacker David Harris leads the New York with 62 tackles, while rookie end Muhammad Wilkerson has 29 tackles and a sack and Revis has 39 tackles to go with four interceptions.
By the numbers, Washington is 27th in scoring (16.6 ppg), 19th in total yards (322.4 ypg), 14th in passing (236.0 ypg) and second-to-last in rushing (86.4 ypg). The Jets on defense are 17th in points allowed (21.9 ppg), eighth in yards allowed (318.7 ypg), seventh against the pass (204.6 ypg) and 16th in rushing defense (114.1 ypg).
KEYS TO THE GAME
Sanchez. A bad interception early on put the Jets in peril against Buffalo last week, but his four touchdown passes afterward were a necessary tonic. He'll need a continuance against a stout, underappreciated Redskins defense.
Grossman. There's no telling what Jets fans would do with the roller-coaster that is the former University of Florida star, who has just 10 career starts with a touchdown pass and zero interceptions, if he was their quarterback. Ryan and his defense will be licking their chops to create mistakes, and the Redskins will have a hard time winning if Grossman's committing them.
Helu, Washington. The rookie runner has shown glimpses in two starts and could be a valuable weapon to take the focus off Grossman. The Jets have had matchup problems against teams with credible tight ends and backs who are able to catch passes as well as run. Helu creates that scenario.
Jets fans have seen this game a thousand times at the outset of playoff runs over the years. A perceived weaker opponent. A host of perceived matchup advantages. An overwhelming edge in standings motivation. Yet those fans have walked away disgusted in several of those cases. The 2011 team is especially difficult to gauge because of its topsy-turvy results, but after his track record in two full seasons, Ryan has to be counted on to produce something functional -- if not artistic -- at least until his team is mathematically eliminated.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Jets 20, Redskins 17
12/01 11:58:58 ET