Then came two costly mistakes that overshadowed an otherwise solid performance -- and kept the door open a bit for rookie Geno Smith.
Sanchez led the Jets on five scoring drives through three quarters in a 37-13 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars on Saturday night. But he also threw an interception in the red zone and then held on to the ball too long on third down as the first half ended, keeping the Jets (1-1) from a chance at a field goal.
Gabbert led the Jaguars (0-2) on two scoring drives and staked his claim to the Jaguars' starting job before leaving with a sprained right thumb in the second quarter. Gabbert, competing with Chad Henne, was 13-of-16 passing for 165 yards and a touchdown to Allen Reisner before the injury. Jaguars coach Gus Bradley said an X-ray on Gabbert's thumb was negative.
"It's unfortunate," said Gabbert, who wore a soft black brace on the thumb. "It's part of the game. We'll see tomorrow what the deal is. I just dinged it up a little bit. I just got hit on the back of it. Nothing major."
Gabbert said he banged thumbs with a defensive player, who tried to swat away the ball. He was replaced by Henne, but the Jaguars announced Gabbert was coming out of the game regardless of the injury.
"I didn't really push it," Gabbert said. "I was coming out after that series anyway. It was more precautionary, ice it to alleviate some of the swelling."
Jacksonville's Maurice Jones-Drew ran for 9 yards and had a 20-yard catch in his first game action since suffering a foot injury last October.
"It felt great," Jones-Drew said. "Getting tackled was great."
Justin Blackmon, who opened training camp on the physically unable to perform list following groin surgery this summer, had three catches for 37 yards in his preseason debut.
"I felt with Geno not playing," Sanchez said, "he would have gotten another shot."
Both teams came in with unsettled quarterback situations, and the Jets will have an interesting week after Sanchez had some good moments and some others that likely reminded them of previous years' inconsistencies.
Smith watched the game from the sideline after being told Friday that he would sit out and rest his right ankle.
"It's doing a lot better," Smith said. "It's pretty much close to being 100 percent."
Smith was cleared by team trainers to practice, but he walked with a noticeable limp early in the week during training camp at SUNY Cortland and acknowledged that the ankle was sore.
Smith, the Jets' second-round draft pick, was intercepted four times in Wednesday's practice, including three in 11-on-11 drills, prompting Ryan to call the QB's performance "brutal." If Smith is healthy, he'll likely get lots of action against the Giants -- unless the Jets decide on Sanchez as the starter to open the season.
"We play it day by day, and based on what I've been told, the competition is still open," Smith said.
The Jets got off to a fast start in this one, with Sanchez leading the team on a six-play, 59-yard drive that was capped by a 23-yard touchdown pass to Cumberland.
Gabbert got the Jaguars right back on their first offensive possession, marching Jacksonville 80 yards down the field in seven plays and hitting Reisner for a 5-yard scoring pass.
Sanchez had an impressive drive of his own on the Jets' next possession but ruined it with a throw for Kellen Winslow Jr. from the Jaguars 3 that was intercepted in the end zone by Marcus Trufant. The sparse crowd at MetLife Stadium booed Sanchez loudly, just moments after cheering him for grounding a pass near the goal line rather than taking a risky chance and turning over the ball.
Trailing 13-10, the Jets had another chance to score just before the half as they got the ball at the Jaguars 3 after Konrad Reuland recovered a muffed punt by Tobais Palmer. On third-and-goal from the 6, Sanchez scrambled as the final 4 seconds ticked away and overthrew Clyde Gates in the end zone as time expired -- prompting more boos from the MetLife crowd.
"That won't happen again," Sanchez said. But Ryan added "that one was on me" for not managing the clock better.
Notes:Jets LB Quinton Coples left in the second quarter after injuring his right leg, possibly his ankle. Ryan had no immediate details on the severity of the injury for the team's first-round pick last year. ... Jets LB Danny Lansanah, in an NFL camp for the first time since the 2009 season, had an interception midway through the third quarter to set up a touchdown drive. ... The Jaguars were penalized 10 times, resulting in a loss of 100 yards.
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press