The greatest trick Mark Sanchez ever pulled was convincing the world he can’t complete a 20-yard out

Before New York’s 23-17 loss to the Houston Texans in Week 5, backup quarterback Tim Tebow tweeted, “Looking forward to giving God all the glory in tonight’s 666th Monday Night Football game. Romans 8:37-39.”

With the No. 6 jersey on his back, starter Mark Sanchez connected on 14 of 31 passes, had one touchdown and two interceptions.

File this under “You can’t make it up”: Sanchez’s line means — drumroll please — on the season, he now has a 66.6 passer rating, 6.6 yards per attempt, six touchdowns, six interceptions, and his longest completion of the season was good for 66 yards.

CBS New York.

And — as I pointed out when Josh noted the same series of stats in the comments section yesterday — don’t forget that Sanchez is devilishly handsome.

I’d love to dismiss this as a series of coincidences with a joke about how Tebow’s secretary is named Sanchez and Sanchez’s secretary is named Tebow, and obviously I do think it’s a series of coincidences and I don’t think Mark Sanchez is actually Damien from the Omen or anything. But it’s a pretty amazing series of coincidences.

Or maybe — maybe! — Mark Sanchez is unbelievably good at football and he’s just trolling Tim Tebow something fierce, Dawson in Varsity Blues style.

So the replacement refs are not good. What now?

The scab NFL refs, you might have noticed, are awful at officiating football games. This leads to some awful football events like those that occurred at the end of last night’s Seahawks-Packers game, awful calls at a seemingly higher rate than they came last year, and an awful lurching pace to games as the fill-in guys run around trying to figure out what happens next.

Speaking of: If you’ve determined that the NFL’s replacement refs suck to the point that they are impacting the quality of NFL football — as they obviously did last night — what recourse do you have, as a football fan, to encourage the NFL and its officials to squash the beef?

That’s not rhetorical, really.

The best I can think of is for everyone to stop watching NFL football until its settled. But since the NFL has a monopoly on professional football and professional football is a juggernaut, that doesn’t seem likely to happen. Maybe we’re all just going to abide the scab refs until they improve or are replaced by better scab refs because we just can’t get enough football.

A more palatable but certainly less effective alternative is for everyone to whine and moan about it so much that the public-relations hit forces the league to flinch. That’s sort of what this post is about. But it’s going to take a hell of a lot more than this to do that. The NFL mints money off a bloodsport that we plan our weeks around and tune our flatscreens to every Sunday, Monday and Thursday like we’re the brainwashed populous of some dystopian future. The NFL is Big Brother and we have always been at war with the NFL Referees Association. Or something. The NFL can take its knocks without breaking.

The players present a wild card in the process. Clearly the replacement officials jeopardize player safety, and the players taking a unified stand against the league’s position could help the process along. But while the NFLPA is sympathetic to the refs’ cause, it insists there’s nothing it can do beyond writing strongly worded letters as “they’re not permitted to strike under any terms other than the security of their union.”

But if they’re claiming that the league “failed in [its] obligation to provide as safe a working environment as possible,” isn’t that a pretty legit gripe? Some football players die from the long-term effects of the head injuries they suffer. The NFL will make more than $9 billion in revenue this year off football players playing football. Who really holds the cards? No one wants to see Roger Goodell play football, right? No one wants to see Jerry Jones in a three-point stance across the line of scrimmage from Jim Irsay, at least not for more than a quarter.

What if in all the 1 o’clock games this Sunday, the players called the coin toss, returned to their sidelines, then just stayed there for a few extra minutes to remind everyone who actually does the football playing in football? No macho b.s., just a group of men who risk their health for their jobs so that they can make some money (and some other guys can make way, way more money) standing up for themselves to demand the safest possible incredibly dangerous workplace? Would anyone blame them for that? Would the league really sue?

Is anyone really ready for some football?

In April, with the help of SNY promos man Brett, I published to YouTube a video of myself singing lyrics I “wrote” to the tune of a Bizet aria. Those lyrics are as follows:

Small sample size, small sample sample size
Small sample size
Small sample size
Small, small sample size, small sample size
Small sample size, sample size!
It’s a small sample size
Small sample size
It’s a small sample size.

There’s nothing worse than explaining a joke, but the song is nominally about baseball. Its premise is that baseball, like many pursuits, is subject to a hell of a lot of randomness, that our eyes and hearts are gullible, and that the fluctuations in performance from teams and players over small parts of seasons that lure us into believing they indicate something meaningful almost always prove otherwise with more evidence. And if you were to tell me that some baseball player I believed to be very good sucked very hard for 16 baseball games — or vice versa — I would certainly sing to you these words:

Small sample size, small sample sample size
Small sample size
Small sample size…

Etc.

So it seems strange to me that the sample-size specter is so infrequently cited in football, a sport that operates in tiny samples and that is, due to the money culture surrounding it, subject to such thorough scouring and forecasting from every barking pregame analyst and bright-eyed online gambler and sniveling office fantasy guru and everyone in between.

Why should we spare the NFL’s players and prognosticators the prudence we know is required in baseball? Is the game any less subject to randomness? Maybe, but then individual player performances are far more dependent on those of their teammates and opponents, and, in many cases, the officiating. We can see when a player consistently performs well in a system and with a certain set of players around him, but can we ever know for certain he is a great player that will perform as well in another system with other or lesser players around him?

And it strikes me that for a player to establish as much, he must be playing frequently enough to deny the opportunities to his replacements, so it is impossible to know for sure that any run-of-the-mill NFL-caliber player at the position couldn’t step in to the role and, with enough reps, enjoy similar success. Plus, it seems that given the short arcs upon which NFL players necessarily exist, by the time a player can establish beyond all doubt that he is excellent, that may very well no longer be the case.

We strongly suspect Peyton Manning is good. We know he played extraordinarily well for more than a decade as the quarterback of the Indianapolis Colts, and based on what we’ve seen from other quarterbacks and from — in brief spurts — Manning’s replacements, we believe few others would have performed as well as Manning in the same situation.

But does anyone think Peyton Manning circa 2004 would have played like Peyton Manning circa 2004 were he under center for the New York Jets this week and last? And does no one imagine Mark Sanchez — the suddenly gun-shy, inaccurate, altogether not-poised Sanchez — could look a bit better than he has recently (football-wise, at least) if the players around him were as good as the players around Manning back then?

And Peyton Manning is the outlier. Manning’s is the first name that comes to mind to counter any argument suggesting NFL players are more or less fungible products of their systems because Manning is one of the very few dudes who presented ample evidence over plenty of time that he was in fact something more. Manning’s the guy who started 208 straight games. The sample size seems adequate.

Sanchez? We don’t know. Sanchez has started 50 games, sure, but nearly half of them were also started by Wayne Hunter. He has at times been hampered by poor play calling, an awful running game, and receivers that look like they’d drop hand-offs and appeal to the refs for pass interference.

Which is all to note my growing concern that most purported NFL expertise is rooted either in sheer obliviousness or some sort of wink-nod agreement that no one really knows a damned thing about who’s better than whom, and we’re all pretty much full of it but we’re going to keep blustering forward because a) everybody’s watching football anyway, b) it’s a hell of a lot of fun, and c) there’s no actual accountability beyond 50 bucks to the office fantasy guru when our bold predictions go awry.

When I first watched Sanchez play quarterback for the Jets, I identified what I believed to be precocious and intangible presence and judgment at the position, and thought that he would prove great with time. Those qualities faded that season but returned in the playoffs, and then again in the first half of 2010. Now, he looks timid in the pocket, afraid to throw downfield but also afraid of oncoming rushers and afraid to tuck and run. But I know this represents merely a six-game stretch of mostly lousy play for the man, that he has played even worse in the past and recovered, that he’s cast into the spotlight — for better or worse — because of his position, and that, again, he’s getting little help from his supporting cast.

I want Mark Sanchez to be good and I’m not sure he is. I think he has looked worse than he actually is these last two weeks because of some poor play around him, but I am pretty certain he is not as good as vintage Peyton Manning. And I fear none of it will matter all that much as it pertains to this season if the Jets are forced to carry on without Darrelle Revis, whom I can say confidently is almost inexplicably awesome despite all the requisite caveats for his environment, sample size and confirmation bias.

The black unicorn explained

Asked in training camp about his speed downfield, Bennett described himself to reporters as a “black unicorn.” Predictably, the name stuck.

Many assumed the label was just another example of Bennett’s eccentricity. In truth, fictitious animals are a staple for Bennett and his wife. The black unicorn is a character in Bennett’s novel — which also includes talking walls and a plot that Bennett will describe only as amazing — while Siggi, originally from California, has a healthy affection for mermaids. This year, Bennett even had a birthday cake made for his wife that featured a likeness of her, complete with a mermaid’s green tail, atop the icing.

Bennett’s den contains a collection of other unusual beings — he recently ordered a Mickey Mouse toy wearing a gas mask.

Sam Borden, N.Y. Times.

Ahhh… every single thing about Martellus Bennett. Please go read this article.

Via Josh.

Missing you

The Jets lost yesterday and Mark Sanchez looked pretty bad. Mark Sanchez is an NFL quarterback and NFL quarterbacks tend to bear the bulk of the blame when their teams lose, so the going sentiment this morning seems to be that the Jets lost yesterday because Mark Sanchez looked pretty bad. But I’m not certain that’s the case.

For one thing, most of the Jets offense looked pretty bad. Sanchez’s much-maligned run of incomplete passes wasn’t helped by some lousy play from his receivers, including a couple of notable drops and miscommunication with Jeff Cumberland.

And mostly, focusing on Sanchez’s struggles in the game overlooks what was likely a bigger factor in their loss: The absence of their best player — and arguably one of the very best football players in the world — cornerback Darrelle Revis.

Check this out: The Daily News’ feature off the game focuses on the Jets’ problems with the Pittsburgh secondary. Its notes article highlights Tim Tebow’s reception in Pittsburgh, LaRon Landry’s costly penalties, and the tight ends the Jets used to replace Dustin Keller, a column from Hank Gola insists the Jets’ offense needs to be better, and in a column under two pretty photos of Tim Tebow, Bob Raissman argues that CBS shows too much of Tim Tebow. In five articles about the Jets’ loss to the Steelers in the Daily News, Revis’ absence is mentioned once, in the 11th paragraph of the recap, after a bunch of stuff about Sanchez.

The Post, to that paper’s credit, mentions Ben Roethlisberger’s dominance of the Revis-less Jets’ secondary in two news stories off the game. It also featured a sidebar on Tebow’s absence and one on Landry’s penalties. One column mentions Roethlisberger’s shredding of the Jet D but ultimately blames Sanchez anyway, and the other is about how anybody can lose to anybody in football and how the Jets always seem to lose in Pennsylvania — both of which are true.

The Times mentions Revis’ absence in the 14th paragraph of its recap but not in its blog post about why the Jets lost. There are two other recent Jets stories in the Times. Neither of them appear to have anything to do with Revis, but I can’t read them as I’m past my article limit for the month.

So of 15 articles in the three New York City papers about yesterday’s Jets game, only a third even mention the absence of the team’s best player, and really only one — from the Post — focuses on how poorly the Jets’ secondary played against the Steelers’ passing attack. Does anyone anywhere think Roethlisberger even attempts that 3rd-and-16 touchdown pass to Mike Wallace if Revis is covering him? And if by some chance Roethlisberger does, is there any way Wallace is able to make that catch if the best cornerback in football is hanging all over him? C’mon.

That’s a game-changer right there. But tack on the way the Jets could have schemed for the Steelers with Revis in the game versus the way they had to without him and figure his presence means a couple more sacks, a few less third-down conversions, a narrower gap in time-of-possession, less pressure on the Jets’ offense to force the ball downfield late in the game and thus more opportunities for Tim Tebow and the Wildcat crew — all those things you wanted out of the Jets’ offense, courtesy one awesome man on the Jets’ defense. Guy’s really good.

It’s not the Jets’ fault that Revis missed the game, of course. It’s nobody’s fault but circumstance, and that doesn’t make for very good headlines. But putting this one on Sanchez and the Jets’ offense, no matter how bad they looked, is undercutting the contributions Revis makes to the defense every week he’s healthy. They could not stop Roethlisberger and the Steelers’ passing attack. That’s the story here.

Requiem for a mustache

Kevin Gilbride’s mustache, a legendary lip adornment that won two Super Bowl championships and was respected as one of the most enduring examples of responsible facial hair in sports, died last month in a shaving accident at the Giants’ practice facility here. It was believed to be about 41.

Sam Borden, N.Y. Times.

Sam’s a friend of the site, but this important item of journalism would be linked here even if he were its oldest enemy. With this, the “no play for Mr. Gray” thing and her obvious appreciation of me, the Gray Lady is really cutting loose lately. Someone cue up a Shelley reference before the paper’s reputation collapses.

Football players crazy

I don’t know much about Redskins long snapper Nick Sundberg, but he snapped the ball nine times with a broken arm yesterday. Also, and more alarmingly/importantly/excitingly, his mom worked for Taser International and he used to test out her company’s products on himself when he was young. Here’s a pretty crazy quote:

Every time they come out with a new one, I’ve tried it. It hurts a lot. It completely incapacitates you. Usually it’s a five-second run time. All your muscles lock up. When we did it, we tried to do it as safely as possible. We’d have two guys stand there so you don’t face-plant. But the second it’s off, it’s off, and you’re like, ‘What did I just do?’ There’s no pain or anything. That’s why I was able to keep going back to it over and over again.

Also of note: I happened to work in Long Beach back in the summer of 1999, when Jets offensive linemen Jumbo Elliott, Jason Fabini and Matt O’Dwyer went on a rampage in a local bar that started because Elliott was peeing in the sink in the woman’s bathroom and someone told him he shouldn’t do that. Anyway, everything I heard was second-hand so don’t file this under good or reasonable reporting so much as local gossip, but the rumor around town was that it took more than 20 cops to control them and that at one point, either Fabini or Elliott was tased to no effect.