PITTSBURGH PA - JANUARY 23: Mark Sanchez #6 of the New York Jets drops back to pass against the Pittsburgh Steelers during the 2011 AFC Championship game at Heinz Field on January 23 2011 in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania. (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
The New Jersey teams had a torrid week, going 6-2, while their New York brethren played to mixed results. But the biggest game of the week -- and year -- took place in Pittsburgh, with the New York Jets coming up with yet one more disheartening, crushing loss. They dug themselves a New Jersey-sized hole in the first half, valiantly fought back in the second but fell five points short. Sure, the Jets lost, but we're still naming a member of Gang Green the Player of the Week. And besides, it's our last chance at football until September, so the winner is . . .
Mark Sanchez: The Jet quarterback looked like the most experienced, calm player out on the field wearing a green-and-white uniform. He may have been one of the youngest guys in the game, but he played like a savvy veteran. His performance was gritty, gutsy and tough, leading his team to an almost comeback of historic proportions. Was it his fault that the ground and pound running game was more like chopped liver? Was it his fault that Brian Schottenheimer called an awful game? Was it his fault the defense missed all those tackles? Sanchez finished the game 20 for 33, for 233 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions (though he did fumble, which led to seven Pittsburgh points). His touchdown pass to Santonio Holmes was a great throw, and Holmes made a nice catch and a wise decision breaking his route. Not much else was good for the Jets on Sunday. The defense was miles better in the second half but couldn't come up with the big stop at the end. Mission Impossible was impossible after all. Once again, it's wait 'til next year. But Sanchez is proving his worth as a franchise quarterback.
Runners-up & Other Notables
Patrik Elias: The New Jersey Devils are making a run at the biggest comeback in NHL history. They've totaled 13 out of a possible 14 points in their last seven games, and have had a few rare offensive explosions to boot. The veteran Elias scored three times this week, and added two assists in the team's four victories. He's up to 36 points, on 13 goals and 23 assists. Brian Rolston picked up six points, notching two goals. Jason Arnott and Ilya Kovalchuk pitched in with two goals and two assists each. Vladimir Zharkov recorded his first NHL goal in Monday's win over the Islanders. And the team's two goalies both shined this week. Martin Brodeur won three games, including shutting out the Penguins, while Johan Hedberg only let in one goal in the victory over the Flyers.
Brian Boyle: The New York Rangers always manage to stop the bleeding. They started to lose a little too consistently but bounced back and won two out of three this week. Boyle has come out of nowhere to tie Brandon Dubinsky for the team lead in goals, with 17. He's the R.A. Dickey of hockey. He scored the crucial game-tying goal in the shootout win over Atlanta on Saturday night, with 5:19 left in the third period. He also put the puck in the back of the net in the blowout win over Toronto on Wednesday. Marian Gaborik became the first Ranger since Radek Dvorak in 2001 to score four goals in a game, and he also added an assist for a five-point game. If three goals is a hat trick what is four? A chapeau de quatre? It was the third hat trick of the season for Gaborik and the 13th of his career. He, of course, once scored five goals in a game when he played for Minnesota, and it came against the Blueshirts back in 2007. Artem Anisimov and Sean Avery had four and three assists, respectively, in the 7-0 win over the Maple Leafs, giving that line 12 points. Mats Zuccarello continued his shootout prowess with the game-winner on Saturday, making him three for three in his short career. He also scored in the Toronto game. Wojtek Wolski had a goal and two assists in the three games, giving him six points in his first seven games with the team. Henrik Lundqvist recorded his seventh, and probably easiest, shutout of the season against Toronto. It was the 31st of his career, moving him into sole possession of the third place on the all-time franchise list. And Chad Kolarik and Ryan McDonagh picked up their first NHL points with a pair of assists, while Brodie Dupont became the eighth rookie to make his NHL debut this season for the Rangers.
Michael Grabner: The New York Islanders' 23-year-old Austrian right winger scored four goals in three consecutive games this week, giving him 14 for the season. The former Canuck also added an assist in Sunday's loss to Buffalo. Matt Moulson notched three goals. P.A. Parenteau picked up two goals and an assist. And Kyle Okposo made his long-awaited season debut, and assisted on a goal in Friday's win over the Sabres.
Mikhail Prokhorov: The New Jersey Nets' owner was the most important figure for the team this week. His rejection of a Carmelo Anthony deal shocked the NBA this past week, but in the short term, his presence uplifted his team, as they actually won two consecutive games this week. After losing to the Warriors, they defeated Utah and Detroit before falling in a heartbreaker to Dallas on Dirk Nowitzki's last-second shot. Brook Lopez scored a bunch of points (20, 20, 15, 24), but it may be time to just accept the fact that he's not a rebounder. Sasha Vujacic keeps on scoring big baskets down the stretch. Kris Humphries picks up the rebounding slack for Lopez and brings in the chicks to Newark. And Anthony Morrow returned on Friday after a 17-game absence, and made a few huge buckets in the win over the Pistons.
Danilo Gallinari: The New York Knicks are in the midst of a troubling tailspin, losing all four games they played this week. And now it's their turn to play amid swirling rumors of an Anthony trade. Gallinari returned from injured reserve in Monday's loss to Phoenix, and poured in 17 points. He did an admirable job defending Kevin Durant on Saturday, until the Thunder star hit a backbreaking, last-second 3-pointer to send the Knicks home with another loss. Gallinari led the Knicks with 23 points. Amar'e Stoudemire pumped in a season-high 41 points on Monday, but he keeps racking up technical fouls at an alarming rate. He may end up with a day off soon, when and if he's suspended. But the Knickerbockers better turn things around soon. A whole city is counting on them to finally make the playoffs this year.