East Rutherford, N.J. Mark Sanchez jogged onto the field for the first play of the game and immediately had to call an embarrassing timeout.
It was just about the only thing that stopped the New York Jets all afternoon.
Sanchez became the first Jets quarterback to throw two touchdown passes and run for two more scores as New York got off to a fast start and improved its positioning in the AFC playoff race by cruising to a 37-10 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday.
“I was happy we had another opening-drive touchdown,” Sanchez said. “It set the tone early, and we converted on some big third downs and didn’t get too many third downs, which was good. We had some explosive plays and the run game really took off.”
The Jets, plagued by slow starts all season, opened with a timeout — and boos from the MetLife Stadium crowd — because they had the wrong personnel on the field, but rebounded to score 28 points in the first half and were helped by an inept Chiefs offense that managed just four total yards in the first two quarters.
New York (8-5) also leapfrogged Cincinnati, Tennessee and Oakland, all 7-6 after losses Sunday, and took over the last wild-card spot in the AFC.
“It’s just what we’ve been talking about for the last 12, 13 weeks,” linebacker Calvin Pace said. “It all came to form today, which is what we needed. We kind of hold our own destiny in our hands and it was about getting a good win.”
Sanchez was 13-of-21 for 181 yards before being pulled for Mark Brunell with the game in hand, and was cheered warmly in pregame introductions after being booed in the team’s last home game two weeks ago.
Shonn Greene had a season-high 129 yards rushing and a score along with three catches for 58 yards, and Santonio Holmes and LaDainian Tomlinson each caught touchdown passes for the Jets, who have won three straight and improved to 6-1 at home.
“I guess it would be our best game so far this year,” coach Rex Ryan said.
It might have been a costly win, though, as starting safety Jim Leonhard was lost early with an injured right knee after an interception. He was scheduled to have an MRI exam on his right knee Monday to determine the severity of the injury, Many teammates thought it could be season-ending, but the team would await the results before making an official determination.
“I’m hopeful it’s not that bad,” coach Rex Ryan said, “but it’s never good when you need help coming off.”
Tyler Palko was sacked five times by the Jets in a miserable outing by the penalty-plagued Chiefs (5-8) a week after the quarterback earned his first victory as a starter at Chicago. He was 3 for 8 for 11 yards in the half, sacked three times, and the Chiefs had 4 total yards and one first down, compared to the Jets’ 16. Palko had a much better second half, finishing 16 of 32 for 195 yards and a touchdown and an interception.
“The Jets put a lot of pressure (on you),” Palko said. “That’s just what they do. They’re a lot like the Steelers. They have guys all over the place.”
Dwayne Bowe dropped a would-be touchdown pass midway through the fourth quarter, but things got ugly for the Chiefs way before that.
In the most brutal stretch for Kansas City, the Chiefs were penalized five times for 81 yards during the Jets’ final touchdown drive. One of those was an unsportsmanlike conduct call on coach Todd Haley, who let his frustrations out on the officials. Kansas City finished with 11 penalties.
“That generally gets you beat,” said Haley, who wouldn’t elaborate on what he said to the officials. “The one thing we can’t do is lose our composure on calls.”
Sanchez’s 1-yard run gave the Jets a score on their first drive, the second straight game they’ve done that, but it began ominously as he had to call the timeout.
“That wasn’t great,” Ryan said. “That’s not going to go on my coaching resume.”
An 11-play, 77-yard drive followed, jumpstarted by Greene’s 31-yard rumble on the opening snap. On third-and-goal from the 3, Sanchez threw incomplete into the end zone, but Chiefs cornerback Javier Arenas was called for holding, giving the Jets a new set of downs at the 1. Sanchez then took the snap, faked the handoff to Greene and it appeared every Chiefs player bit as the Jets quarterback rolled to his left and strolled into the end zone untouched.
After Leonhard was injured and carted off the field, Sanchez dumped the ball off quickly to Greene, who zipped down the left sideline 36 yards before going out of bounds at the 2. Sanchez found Holmes in the middle of the end zone two plays later for a 4-yard touchdown and a 14-3 lead.
Greene’s 7-yard touchdown run put New York ahead 21-3 after a called fumble was overturned by officials. Tomlinson made it 28-3 less than 2 minutes later when he took a screen pass from Sanchez, made a few cutback moves and got a big block from center Nick Mangold for a 19-yard touchdown. It marked the first time the Jets scored 28 points in an opening half since scoring 40 against St. Louis in 2008.
“I love the way we started the game,” Ryan said.
Added Haley: “It was probably our worst half of football. I don’t know if it’s even close this season.”
Things really started getting out of hand midway through the third quarter when the Chiefs were called for three straight penalties, including an unsportsmanlike conduct on an irate Haley. A few plays later, Brandon Flowers and Kendrick Lewis were called for consecutive pass interference penalties, bringing the ball to the 4. On third-and-goal, Sanchez took the snap and rolled into the end zone for a 3-yard touchdown — his career-high fifth TD run of the season — and a 35-3 lead.
One of the few highlights for the Chiefs came when Jerheme Urban caught a 24-yard touchdown pass — in between four Jets defenders — to make it 35-10.
Sione Pouha tackled Jackie Battle for a safety late in the game after T.J. Conley’s punt was downed at the 1.
“It felt good,” Greene said, “to put a lot of points on the board and dominate.”
Notes: Chiefs K Ryan Succop badly botched an onside kick attempt that traveled 3 yards early in the fourth quarter. ... Chiefs S Jon McGraw left in the second quarter with an injured left ankle and didn’t return. ... New York’s five sacks were a season high. ... Chiefs RB Thomas Jones had just 12 yards on five carries, but passed Eddie George and Tiki Barber for 22nd on the NFL’s career list.