EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — You knew a Jets quarterback was going to get booed in the season opener. You just knew it. But who could have guessed it would be Tim Tebow when the home team was ahead by two touchdowns in the first half?
"I didn't hear them," Tebow said after the Jets scored 17 more points than they did during the entire exhibition season.
And then Tebow smiled.
"It was a fun day," he said.
If the Jets were going to scream "I told you so!" after pounding the Buffalo Bills 48-28 at MetLifeStadium, it was going to have to come from someone other than Mark Sanchez, Tebow or even coach Rex Ryan.
"Vindication," Ryan said, "is too strong a word." Asked if he thought his team played with a chip on its shoulder after the number of preseason doubters had grown higher than the Empire State Building, Ryan answered, "I certainly do." Then he quickly backtracked and said, "Urgency is probably a better word."
This isn't really a story about the Jets' Wildcat or the wild cats that inhabit their locker room and coaches' office. It's not really even about Tebow. We'll leave that job to ESPN.
This is a story about Mark Sanchez. You could almost hear Jets fans warming up their lungs in their cars in the parking lot at 10 a.m., prepared to boo Sanchez off the field.
On the first possession of the game, Sanchez gave his critics exactly what they wanted. He took off on a bootleg left. At the last moment he saw Jeff Cumberland and stupidly tried to force a shuffle pass that bounced off the tight end and was picked off by Buffalo's Bryan Scott.
"I forced the play," Sanchez said. "I should have tucked it and ran."
"I was thinking we should bench him," Ryan said, joking.
The Jets scored 31 points in the preseason, the lowest total in the NFL. They went 0-4 for the first time in 19 years. Every living, breathing devotee of the J-E-T-S seemed to grow sicker and sicker about the offense.
The Jets didn't score a touchdown until the 37th drive of the preseason. That's when third string quarterback Greg McElroy hit Terrance Ganaway for a 6-yard touchdown pass. Ganaway was claimed off waivers by the St. Louis Rams, but big doubts and even bigger jokers remained. On the front page of its NFL preview section, the New York Post pictured Sanchez, Ryan and Tebow dressed in clown suits squished into a tiny car wearing sad clown faces. Yes, the Jets were clowns, and they hadn't even played a serious down yet.
"We know the records we set in the preseason," Ryan said. And then Rexy went on to list, among other impressive statistical accomplishments, how the Jets set a record for most points in a season opener. Yet the most impressive number was the number of costly mistakes Sanchez made after his interception. None.
"The one interception thing is unfortunate, because he knows he has to protect the football better," Ryan said. "Clearly we wish he had that one back, because he had one heck of a day, a tremendous day."
Sanchez finished 19-for-27 for 266 yards, three touchdowns and a nifty 123.4 passing rating. He was not sacked.
"When Mark has time to throw the football, he can throw it with anybody," Ryan said. "The offensive line did a great job. Big Austin Howard had a monster challenge [in Mario Williams] and had a tremendous game."
Sanchez has been accused of a lot of things in his first four NFL seasons. Forcing too many dumb passes, being lazy and incapable of lifting his play to a championship level — and that's from unnamed teammates. There was Santonio Holmes at the start of training camp saying the two-quarterback system wouldn't work, and there was Ryan saying he hired him to be a wide receiver, not to be offensive coordinator. Ryan hired West Haven native Tony Sparano, fired a month earlier as Dolphins head coach to do that. This, of course, didn't stop Holmes last week from saying that Sanchez was "rattled" when he got news of the Tebow deal.
Sanchez said he wasn't rattled. What mattered most Sunday: Sanchez wasn't rattled by his one mistake.
"I kept my head," Sanchez said. "It goes as the quarterback goes. If you hang your head a little too low, guys begin to question."