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Jets QB Sanchez might play in next game despite sprained knee

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Mark Sanchez's headfirst dive gave the New York Jets a big first down -- and a huge scare.

Rest easy, Rex Ryan. Sanchez isn't seriously injured.

The rookie quarterback might be able to play in the Jets' next game after spraining the posterior cruciate ligament in his right knee during Thursday night's 19-13 victory over the Buffalo Bills. Ryan, the Jets' first-year coach, said an MRI exam Friday revealed the severity of Sanchez's injury, which could have been much worse.

"I feel good that it sounds like he's going to be healthy," Ryan said. "I think that is the best news we could've hoped for."

Ryan said Sanchez initially will wear a brace to stabilize the knee, and the coach is optimistic that his quarterback could be ready to go against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Dec. 13.

Since the Jets played Thursday, they have 10 days before their next game -- giving Sanchez extra time to heal. That could be good news for the Jets (6-6), who kept their slim playoff hopes alive with the victory over the Bills.

"We'll see how he is during the week," Ryan said, "but it was encouraging news."

Sanchez was injured when he dived headfirst on an 8-yard run early in the third quarter against the Bills. He was examined by trainers for several minutes on the sideline and replaced by Kellen Clemens before making his way with a slight limp to the locker room.

Sanchez already was nursing a sore left knee after he was hurt during a 17-6 victory over the Carolina Panthers last weekend. Concerned about Sanchez's sliding abilities, Ryan brought in New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi for a tutorial Tuesday.

Despite that session, Sanchez went headfirst instead of feetfirst on the play he was injured, and he defended his actions after the game.

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"In the heat of the moment, I don't know how else to explain it, I was really trying to get a first down and advance the chains," Sanchez said. "That's just the way I play."

Ryan was angry and frustrated by Sanchez's decision, calling him a "knucklehead" after the game. The coach said he hadn't spoken to Sanchez on Friday, but didn't back down from his initial comments.

"Everything I mentioned is for the safety of him," Ryan said. "I want him to be around a long time. I think my comments and all that, it's because I care about him."

Ryan said he actually would have preferred Sanchez to not make the first down over risking injury on a headfirst dive.

"It's weird for me to say that, but it's the truth," Ryan said. "More than anything, I want him to be healthy."

Ryan mentioned the late Steve McNair, whose gritty approach often left him injured, and said there are plenty of other examples of players suffering concussions and other injuries on headfirst dives.

"If you polled 32 quarterbacks, you may get 30 of them who said, 'Go for it,' or 31 of them," Ryan said. "But he's my quarterback. He's our quarterback, and I want him to slide."

Ryan said Sanchez's sliding problems have been an issue since training camp, and the coaches have since been urging the quarterback to slide instead of dive. Ryan realizes that Sanchez's instinct is to go headfirst.

"Obviously, that's what he's more comfortable doing, but in the long run, he's going to stay healthier longer by sliding," Ryan said. "That's all I'm trying to do, is get his instincts to, 'OK, I need to slide.' If that means a public bashing by me, if you will, this is like one of my sons here. That's how you approach it."

Sanchez completed 7 of 15 passes for 104 yards and one touchdown against the Bills before leaving with the injury. Ryan said he actually didn't realize that Sanchez was out of the game until he looked up and saw Clemens under center.

"I don't know if I was over there with the defense or what, must've been," Ryan said, "but I came back and was like, 'Where's Sanchez?'"

Clemens finished the game and was 1-of-2 passing for 14 yards. In his fourth NFL season, he actually has started fewer games than Sanchez. Clemens started eight games in 2007, but got into just two last season with Brett Favre in New York, and then lost the position battle to Sanchez this summer.

Clemens should receive the bulk of the first-team snaps -- at least early on -- in practice next week.

"That'll be huge," Clemens said. "Having a chance to throw to some of these guys and just get some reps in our offense where you can really sit back and evaluate it will be huge going into next game, if I'm playing in the next game. We'll see how things go."

Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

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