FLORHAM PARK, N.J. – Dustin Keller stood in front of his locker for nearly 10 minutes and, perhaps for the first time in months, was not asked about his two most popular New York Jets teammates.
Nothing about Mark Sanchez.
Nothing about Tim Tebow.
"Hey, yeah," the Jets tight end said Wednesday with a big smile. "Yeah, you're right. It's about time."
There was also no mention of either player during coach Rex Ryan's news conference, a rarity for a team that has drawn an incredible amount of attention for months because of its popular backup quarterback. New York's quarterback controversy appeared ready to boil over just a few days ago. Now, it's back to a simmer — at least for this week.
Funny what a win can do. After all, Sanchez went out and put up a game Sunday against Indianapolis that will hardly rank among the best of his career.
He was 11 for 18 for only 82 yards, marking the third time he failed to throw for at least 100 in his three-plus seasons. But, he had two touchdowns and no turnovers, leading the Jets to a 35-9 win in which he led an offense that got back to its run-first philosophy under Tony Sparano with 252 yards on the ground, including a career-high 161 by Shonn Greene. The maligned offensive line also had its best all-around game of the season by creating holes for Greene, protecting Sanchez and giving him time to throw when he needed to.
"We've got to be balanced, I've always thought," Sanchez said. "The way we rushed it last week was nice. It makes my job easy, but if we need to throw it, we'll throw it. Whatever we need to do to be efficient."
That approach took all the pressure off Sanchez as the New York-area tabloids have been more interested in his budding relationship with actress Eva Longoria than his quarterback rating. That, too, by the way, has gotten better after Sunday's performance, rising from an unsightly 66.6 to 70.9.
Now comes the big test for Sanchez and the rest of the offense: a showdown with AFC East rival New England on the road.
"They're always tough to play," Sanchez said. "They always bring their best. They find ways to win. So it's on us to take care of the football, hopefully keep on running the ball like we did last week and we'll see how things turn out."
The Patriots haven't particularly been Sanchez's favorite team to play, as evidenced by his 2-4 record against them in the regular season with eight touchdowns and nine interceptions. But he also had a terrific game at New England in the playoffs following the 2010 regular season, going 16 of 25 for 194 yards and three touchdowns in a 28-21 win that put the Jets into their second straight AFC title game.
At stake Sunday is first place in the division, with all four teams deadlocked at 3-3. While the Jets are 10½-point underdogs, they know exactly what they need to do in order to come out on top.
"You have to come out of the red zone with points," Sanchez said. "When you play one of the best teams in the league, one of the best defenses and one of the best scoring offenses, you have to come away with seven points. That's our goal, but most importantly, it's points."
New York scored on all five of its trips into the red zone last Sunday against Indianapolis, finally resembling the offense that opened the season with a 48-28 win over Buffalo.
"I think we're getting better as a team," Tebow said. "I feel like we're given an opportunity to try and make the most of it. (We're) just working hard to get better every day and every week."
A lot of the criticism of the Jets through six games has been their scattered use of Tebow, who was expected to be a major part of the team's offense. Instead, he has been used in only 44 offensive plays, which averages to just over seven a game.
"I guess I didn't know what to expect," Tebow said of the offense Sunday.
He has done his best to hide any frustration he might have about his lack of use, but the way things were clicking against the Colts, Tebow wasn't needed much. But he was on the field to provide a spark just before halftime when the Jets had fourth-and-11 from the Colts 40, and he lined up as the punt protector, took the direct snap, stepped forward and popped a pass to linebacker Nick Bellore, who rumbled 23 yards.
Three plays later, Tebow was at quarterback and ran 3 yards for a first down, setting up Sanchez's 5-yard TD toss to Jason Hill.
"He's been great," Sanchez said. "He's a hard worker and I think he's been fun to have around. It's been a good relationship and he's trying to help us in any way he can, so that's good. He's done a great job on special teams and doing some of the wildcat stuff, so it's certainly a real plus for us."
Some have suggested Tebow be used more in the backfield as a running back or fullback with Sanchez on the field, and there's a possibility that could happen against the Patriots. Backup running backs Joe McKnight (left ankle) and Bilal Powell (right shoulder) didn't practice Wednesday and might not play Sunday. That would leave only Greene and fourth-stringer Jonathan Grimes as the remaining running backs.
The way Patriots coach Bill Belichick sees it, having Tebow is like having another running back on the field anyway.
"He runs the ball and he's tough," Belichick said. "He can throw the ball, the deep ball. He's a poised guy."
Tebow acknowledged that he would "absolutely" be prepared to be integrated more into the running game, but insisted that it's not something the Jets have worked on.
At least, not yet.
Whatever it takes for victories. That's what will make all the Sanchez vs. Tebow talk disappear for good.
"As far as my personal play, we've just got to get more wins," Sanchez said. "I think there are a few throws that I want back and stuff, but that's natural. We're working through some personnel issues here, getting guys healthy, so that's helped this last week.
"But you know, I'm just trying to find ways to get wins and not really worry about outside opinions."
NOTES: Ryan raved about the Patriots in his news conference, and again hailed Belichick as the NFL's best coach. "I'm confident in my abilities and all that stuff, but if you're looking, let's face it, we know he has all the rings and everything else and the records," Ryan said. "I just think when it's all said and done, when you look at what he's accomplished in his coaching career as a head coach, there probably won't be anybody close to him." ... The Jets brought QB Kevin O'Connell in for a workout Wednesday, but Ryan wouldn't say if a signing was imminent. "There's always a possibility, with us you look at any way you can help your football team, you're going to explore that." The workout was curious since the Jets already have Sanchez, Tebow and Greg McElroy on the roster.
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