The NFL calendar said it was just another August preseason game at MetLife Stadium. But the aftermath felt like the middle of December.
Rex Ryan's worst-case scenario came true for the New York Jets. Rookie quarterback Geno Smith imploded, throwing three interceptions and taking a ridiculous safety in his first preseason start. Mark Sanchez left with a shoulder injury after being inserted into the game in the middle of the fourth quarter. Ryan was under attack by a sea of swarming, hyperbolic reporters looking for blood.
The post-game scene teetered between contentious and bizarre, the most tense back-and-forth of the Ryan era. In the middle of August.
"I can say anything I want," Ryan said. "That's the beauty of this country. I can answer it 100 (times). I can stand backwards and answer the question. I'm going sideways. We'll make the (starting quarterback) announcement when I think it's the appropriate time. All week, you're talking about winning a game and competing, and that was my decision (to play Sanchez)."
Smith's rough performance briefly left Ryan no choice but to start Sanchez in Week 1. Sanchez's injury now might leave Ryan no choice but to go with the rookie. Saturday night felt like the end of a downward spiral because it's a continuation from last season, when Sanchez was the one melting down on the field against Tennessee.
This is what happens when you half-commit to rebuilding, bringing back Sanchez, Santonio Holmes and a coach neutered by a new general manager: You get an August news conference that's destined for a Coors Light commercial.
"I'll take it," Ryan said of the 24-21 overtime win over the Giants. "I don't care. I'm not apologizing for it. We'll take the win. Do we have to correct a lot of things? Absolutely, but I'd much rather do it after a win. We'll take Snoopy, too."
Here's what else we learned during Saturday's 10 preseason games:
2. Sanchez reportedly will have an MRI on his injured shoulder Sunday.
4. Giants cornerback Terrell Thomas saw action for the first time in the preseason as he recovers from two ACL tears in two years. Big Blue need him because they lost cornerback Jayron Hosley and safety Stevie Brown to injuries. Brown's injury looked serious.
1. The Eagles spent millions on James Casey and a high draft pick on Zach Ertz, but Brent Celek still looks like the primary pass-catching tight end. Celek led the team with seven targets and would've had a touchdown had Michael Vick not overthrown him in the end zone.
2. Bryce Brown has a decisive talent edge on Chris Polk, but the latter continues to run as LeSean McCoy's backup. Even with another fumble from Brown on Saturday, we suspect he'll ultimately overtake Polk. Eagles coach Chip Kelly can't let Brown's playmaking ability go to waste.
3. The Jaguars' first-team offense looked downright frisky for the second consecutive week, this time with Chad Henne at the helm. Don't underestimate the talent on this offense. Cecil Shorts and rookie right tackle Luke Joeckel both returned from injuries, and Maurice Jones-Drew is getting closer to peak form. Backup running back Jordan Todman has passed the eye test in back-to-back games.
4. Jaguars wide receiver Justin Blackmon looks quicker and more agile than last season, when it took him five or six games to reach game shape following a holdout. Impressive rookie Ace Sanders likely will start opposite Shorts until Blackmon returns from his suspension in Week 5.
1. The Falcons have failed to quell concerns over their revamped offensive line. Although Steven Jackson found success between the tackles for the second consecutive week, Matt Ryan was sacked five times in just over two quarters of action.
2. There's no indication that Roddy White's ankle injury will cause him to miss regular-season time. If it does happen, keep in mind that Julio Jones has been an unstoppable target hog since White went down last week.
3. Jacquizz Rodgers absolutely is a bigger threat in the Falcons' passing game than Jackson, but he continues to be used as a pure backup as opposed to the change-of-pace/passing-down-specialist role he played last season.
5. Jake Locker's line of 11 of 13 for 133 yards and one touchdown produced a passer rating of 134.9. The Titans' passing attack has shown tangible progress in consecutive games despite the absences of Delanie Walker and Kendall Wright.
6. The Titans' overhauled ground attack is close to clicking on all cylinders, with both Chris Johnson and Shonn Greene excelling. Johnson is averaging 7.75 yards per carry through three preseason games, but Greene went down with an injury Saturday night.
1. Undrafted rookie quarterback Jeff Tuel is the favorite to start in the Bills' season opener after Kevin Kolb was forced from this game with concussion-like symptoms. Frankly, Tuel has outplayed Kolb in three preseason games this month. Kolb might be out indefinitely, as his last concussion persisted for months. And now, Matt Leinart and John Beck might be in the mix. Yes, you read that right.
1. Despite some skepticism coming into the season, Monte Kiffin's Dallas defense continues to force turnovers (four more against Cincinnati). The first-string defense has yet to allow a touchdown in the preseason, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. PRESEASON STATS!!!
2. Phillip Tanner showed well for the Cowboys after DeMarco Murray was benched early in the game for fumbling deep in his own end. Tanner showed power on several strong runs, but the lack of explosiveness is evident without the starter. Murray clearly got the message, returning in the second half and running with a purpose -- eight carries for 45 yards and a tackle-breaking 7-yard TD on the opening drive.
3. The Bengals' secondary is susceptible to being picked apart when the ferocious front is slowed. When given time, Tony Romo was able to carve up Cincinnati's back end. Romo force-fed Dez Bryant on the first TD drive (five catches for 53 yards and one touchdown on the drive).
5. We also learned that you shouldn't hit ginormous video displays with punts.
1. Josh Freeman might have to look over his shoulder if this keeps up. The Bucs' veteran quarterback had a dismal perfomance, completing just 6 of 16 passes for 59 yards. Rookie QB Mike Glennon wasn't spectacular against backups, but he did lead a game-winning drive. How bad was it for Freeman? This from a Dolphins beat writer after an inexplicable Freeman fumble:
2. Both teams' offensive lines were particularly bad. The Bucs' front allowed five sacks and didn't give backup running backs Mike James or Brian Leonard a chance to show they could take some of the weight off Doug Martin, who sat out the game. The Dolphins' line wasn't much better as Ryan Tannehill was smashed early and often but avoided several sacks with a quick trigger.
3. The Dolphins' run game was dismal. Lamar Miller burst out of the gate with a 20-yard run but did little else, finishing with just 35 yards on eight carries. Daniel Thomas was worse, however, rushing seven times for just 3 yards. Thomas also wasn't able to pick up several short-yardage opportunities. Like we've said for a while, this isn't a competition. The problem is Miller seems to be playing like he knows that as well.
4. Advice for the Dolphins: Go Matthew Stafford-style and just throw it 700 times. Tannehill looked good, even under duress, completing 17 of 27 passes for 150 yards and one touchdown. He also suffered several dropped passes by his receivers, including a sure score by Brandon Gibson.
1. Bernie Kosar couldn't find any ugly words for the Colts' wide receivers. Andrew Luck spread the ball to six targets and made the most of Cleveland leaving Reggie Wayne in single coverage. The presence of T.Y. Hilton had much to do with how Wayne was defended. The Browns seemed overly aware of Hilton, leaving Wayne to haul in seven passes for 79 yards. When Wayne was doubled, he won those matchups, too.
2. This looked more like Pat Shurmur's Browns on offense. Preseason rock star Brandon Weeden came tumbling to earth, leading Cleveland to one field goal in seven possessions and failing to build rhythm. New coach Rob Chudzinski, agitated by a string of three-and-outs, kept his starters in the game well into the third quarter until they finally produced points. Earlier in the night, when an announcer called Weeden "special," Chris Wesseling's laughter rang through the newsroom. Fair reaction.
3. Colts cornerback Greg Toler was very impressive. Underused with the Cardinals last season, Toler had an athletic interception of Eli Manning last Sunday, and he recovered a Greg Little fumble in this game. Toler is a gambler in pass coverage, and occasionally pays for it, but he fits well in Chuck Pagano's defense.
1. The Cardinals had a rough night. Their starters couldn't score, and they lost four starters to injury. No. 7 overall draft pick Jonathan Cooper broke his leg. The Cardinals are maintaining some hope that he could return later in the season. It's a massive loss because Cooper was the key to an improved offensive line. Tight end Rob Housler (ankle), running back Rashard Mendenhall (knee) and nose tackle Dan Williams (ankle) also were hurt. Mendenhall's injury didn't appear serious.
2. Ryan Mathews has looked outstanding through the Chargers' three preseason games, not only lowering his pads and running with purpose but also showing more speed and agility than last season. He even remained on the field in no-huddle situations, both as the lone back and a slot receiver. One slip-up was a fumble approaching the goal line, as Mathews never gained control of the handoff. Without question, he's the featured back in San Diego.
2. Felix Jones rushed eight times for 29 yards in reserve duty for Pittsburgh, which acquired him from Philadelphia in a trade Friday. That just might be enough for Jones to make the Steelers' squad considering all of the team's injuries at running back.
1. The more the Broncos play, the more we think Knowshon Moreno will have a big role. Ronnie Hillman fumbled for the third consecutive game; coach John Fox wasn't amused afterward. Rookie Montee Ball was ordinary again (43 yards on 14 carries) and had a killer drop in the red zone. Moreno did a lot (75 yards from scrimmage) on just eight touches.
2. Rams linebacker Alec Ogletree made a handful of sensational plays, including an interception of Peyton Manning and a fumble return for a touchdown. He moves like a safety and could be one of the NFL's best linebackers in coverage ... as a rookie.
3. Tavon Austin remains quiet as a wide receiver, but he had two punt returns for 104 yards, including an 81-yarder. We think the Rams are keeping their first-round draft pick under wraps as a wideout in the preseason.
4. Manning threw 34 passes in only one half of work. He misfired on a few deep throws, with Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas primarily catching short passes (they combined for 13 catches and 130 yards).