CINCINNATI -- The New York Jets offense showed on Friday night that it clearly has quite a ways to go, which is OK for now, because it's Aug. 10 and not Sept. 10.
But if you're wondering about harmony in the quarterback room -- and judging by the ratings, you're probably quite concerned -- there's reason to rest easy. It has nothing to do with the play of Tim Tebow or Mark Sanchez, both of whom had uneven nights in a 17-6 preseason loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. In this case, the crucial thing was how Sanchez assessed his evening.
"I was proud of the way we moved the ball on that second drive, got a couple first downs; (receiver) Patrick Turner came alive; the protection looked good," the three-year veteran said, stopping on his walk from the locker room to the bus. "At times, we broke down in protection; they had a couple add-ins on defense, got some pressure. And I joked about it earlier -- I channeled my inner Tebow, and scrambled for a first down."
Sanchez was referencing a 4-yard run to convert on third-and-2. Whatever. That isn't the point.
What's more important? Let's just say you wouldn't have seen Kyle Orton joking about his own "inner Tebow" at this time last summer.
Sanchez was called "Tim" at a press conference earlier in training camp. It happened again the following week. (Full disclosure: On the same day, I was the doofus who made the opposite mistake, calling Tebow "Mark.")
Those mistakes were innocent. Yet, if there had been tension between the two quarterbacks -- and to be sure, some close to Sanchez were not pleased that Tebow landed in Gotham -- the slip-ups certainly could have been taken the wrong way. But after he was called "Tim" the second time, Sanchez found the reporter and playfully poked back, calling him by the name of a rival beat writer.
That's good for the Jets, as was the starting quarterback's "inner Tebow" quip. A situation seemingly wired for tension -- a polarizing and wildly popular figure has been dropped into a position group with a signal-caller struggling to live up to expectations -- is being handled properly by the people who really matter in the equation: the players.
Likewise, when asked for his assessment of the night, Tebow first reviewed the offensive unit overall rather than picking through his own performance, giving the dry answer of "I thought we did some things pretty well as an offense; I felt there were some things we needed to improve on."
So at the very least, we're seeing the two guys co-exist. Given the two-week circus they just went through in the woods of upstate New York, that counts for something.
As for the Jets offense itself, calling it a work in progress would be charitable. In new coordinator Tony Sparano's debut, Sanchez took two sacks, indicating that the line might continue to struggle in 2012 as it did in 2011. The Jets didn't get into the end zone all night. The receivers failed to allay concerns about the depth behind Santonio Holmes. The running game struggled, too.
When I asked Sanchez to assess Tebow's play, he smiled and said, "He looked good. He's tough to bring down, and when you think you've got him cornered in the pocket there, he can scramble. He did a great job running."
Tebow didn't look as good throwing the ball, still a tick slow to pull the trigger in spots, and his night ended with an ugly pick.
Still, Sanchez was right. His backup looked plenty comfortable tucking and running with it. Facing the kind of man coverage that invites a quarterback to take off, Tebow obliged, gaining 34 yards on four carries. And that suggests, again, that there will be a way for the Jets to take advantage of Tebow's playmaking abilities.
On this Friday night in Ohio, we didn't see how Tebow will be used when the games count. The coaches decided beforehand that Tebow would play strictly as the second quarterback, and not in situations and spots with the first team, so they could see him play the position rather than just a role. In the process, however, Tebow showed that for now, he's much more ready for a role than the position, at least as that position is constituted in a pro-style offense.
At some point soon, surely, we'll see Tebow's role come to light. On this very ragged night for the Jets, the best news might have been that everybody -- including, most importantly, the two quarterbacks -- seems equipped for that process to play itself out.