BALTIMORE — Once he gains experience, New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez will probably become more comfortable and confident in the pocket.
And, if the rookie is looking for a real positive, there's this: He won't have to face the Baltimore Ravens again this year.
Vying to become the Jets starter, Sanchez got off to a wretched start Monday night and finished with a flourish in a 24-23 preseason loss.
Starting for the first time, Sanchez handed off the ball on the game's opening play from scrimmage. Then he forced a pass while being hit in the stomach by middle linebacker Ray Lewis. The ball was intercepted by Haloti Ngata, who rumbled 25 yards for a touchdown to make it 7-0 with 52 seconds elapsed.
"Not obviously the way you want to start. I thought I was doing the right thing; I felt Ray come free on the right side from the protection," Sanchez said. "I was checking it down to the flat, perfect. Haloti just jumped right in front of the ball and made a really athletic play."
Sanchez nearly had his second pass picked off, too. On his final play, however, the first-round draft pick threw his first NFL touchdown pass – a 19-yarder to running back Leon Washington with 5:50 left in the second quarter.
Drafted fifth overall out of Southern California, Sanchez went 3 for 8 for 43 yards. He didn't experience success until the Ravens removed several players from the first-team defense, including Lewis and safety Ed Reed.
Jets first-year head coach Rex Ryan spent the previous 10 years building the Baltimore defense, but there was no way he could fully explain to Sanchez the experience of going up against the wickedly effective unit.
"You put a young guy like Sanchez in there and you see our defense, it can be difficult," Lewis said. "You saw his eyes get big, and he was jumping around in the pocket. Bottom line: We gave a lot of looks and disguises and we confused him a little bit."
To say the least.
"Oh, they were flying. They were flying around," Sanchez said. "You practice for it and you see it on film. These guys were doing it. You're trying to keep one eye on Ed Reed and one eye on Ray Lewis and a D-lineman gets you."
Long after Sanchez departed, third-string quarterback Erik Ainge scored on a sneak with 22 seconds left to get the Jets to 24-23. Ryan called for a 2-point conversion that failed.
Kellen Clemens, who started New York's other exhibition game, was 5 for 10 for 60 yards. Like Sanchez, he had an interception returned for a touchdown and threw a TD pass (a 28-yarder to David Clowney in the third quarter).
The Ravens looked forward to seeing Ryan again, but made it evident they can survive without him. Baltimore returned two interceptions for touchdowns, forced two fumbles and had a sack.
"That's a great defense over there, and we're striving to be a great defense over here," said Jets linebacker Bart Scott, who followed Ryan to New York.
The Jets didn't get a first down in their opening three series, and Baltimore used a 43-yard pass from Joe Flacco to Derrick Mason to set up a 3-yard touchdown run by Ray Rice for a 14-0 lead.
Another Jets punt ensued, and Baltimore moved 62 yards before rookie Graham Gano missed a 46-yard field goal. Gano, who is competing against Steve Hauschka for the starting job, has missed twice in two games.
Following the miss, Sanchez finally started to move the offense. A short pass to Washington on a third-and-12 went for 16 yards, and a run by Washington for 15 yards on a third-and-10 set up the TD pass.
"I'm proud of the way he responded," Ryan said of Sanchez. "It ain't going to be perfect; sometimes you have these type of nights. You've got to give credit where credit is due, and most of that goes to their defense."
Notes: The Ravens attempted half as many passes against the Jets (27) as against Washington (54) in the preseason opener. ... Baltimore TE L.J. Smith left in the fourth quarter with a hamstring problem. ... New York RB Shonn Greene got hit in the ribs, but Ryan said the injury was not serious.