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Jets QB Sanchez shows increasing maturity after early interception

and watched it get tipped into a defender's hands.

Not exactly the preseason debut the New York Jets quarterback wanted.

"Oh, man," Sanchez said. "I don't think you can script a worse start on the first play of your second season."

Sanchez threw to LaDainian Tomlinson into double coverage on the Jets' second play from scrimmage Monday night in their 31-16 loss to the Giants. The ball deflected off the running back's arm and right to Antrel Rolle, who returned it 59 yards before being tackled at the 1 by Dustin Keller.

"It wasn't the best ball in the world to L.T.," Sanchez said. "I put it on his back shoulder and I've got to lead him with the ball, especially balls like that over the middle so they don't get tipped up from poor accuracy."

Three plays later, Brandon Jacobs ran the ball in and gave the Giants an early 7-0 lead.

It was reminiscent of Sanchez's first preseason start last year against Baltimore, when he forced a pass — also on the Jets' second play — that was intercepted by Haloti Ngata, who rumbled 25 yards for a touchdown with 52 seconds elapsed.

But instead of beating himself up on the sideline this time, Sanchez couldn't wait to get back to work.

"I think that's part of his maturity process from last year to this year," fullback Tony Richardson said. "Last year, he'd get a little down on himself. He came to the sideline, talked about it and moved on to the next play and played great football."

Sanchez bounced back nicely, finishing 13 for 17 for 119 yards, including a 4-yard touchdown pass to Brad Smith, in two mostly sharp quarters. He also showed no signs of being tentative in his first game since having the patella-stabilizing ligament in his left knee repaired in February.

"I think he was a little anxious, ready to go out and have some fun," wide receiver Santonio Holmes said. "But, he calmed down a little bit after that and got this offense rolling."

Sanchez went through his share of growing pains as a rookie, throwing 20 interceptions and making plenty of mistakes. His body language often did nothing to mask his frustration.

"I think last year, I would've been down in the dumps," Sanchez said. "This year, I feel like things will just turn around, no big deal."

Over a year in the system has Sanchez's confidence soaring, and he has had a solid summer. Good thing, too, since much of the Jets' Super Bowl hopes will hinge upon how well Sanchez plays in his second season.

"He came in and did what we expected him to do," coach Rex Ryan said. "He's looked outstanding all through training camp, and tonight was no different."

Sanchez has endeared himself to his teammates by acting more like a 10-year veteran than a second-year player. He sets the tone on the practice field and in the locker room with his competitive nature.

"I don't care if you're playing that sucker in dominoes or hopscotch or whatever, he wants to win," Richardson said. "He's never lost. I mean, everywhere he's been, he's been a winner."

So, when Sanchez struggled through a rough stretch in the middle of last season, his teammates had to remind him that he was still learning — and mistakes were expected.

"You're going to have some bad plays and games that just don't go your way," Richardson said. "It's just a matter of how you pick yourself up and move forward."

Just as Sanchez did late last season, when he was terrific in the playoffs. He threw four touchdown passes — more than he had in his last six regular-season games combined — and two interceptions.

After his first errant pass Monday night, Sanchez marched the Jets on a 14-play drive that was capped by the touchdown pass to Smith.

"He was throwing the ball all over the place, making good checks and did a great job," Keller said. "I think that's more of the offense that we are."

Sanchez followed by leading the offense on drives that ended in field goals on the Jets' next two possessions.

"I wanted to make sure I wasn't trying to force anything after that (interception), like, 'OK, now I need a really good play because I messed something up,'" Sanchez said. "That wasn't going through my head. It was just staying sharp, going through my progressions, checking it down when I needed to, and letting the other guys do the hard work. I think I did that."