Mark Sanchez played his best game of the season against the New England Patriots in Week 7, going 28-of-41 for 328 yards, a touchdown and an interception. He was the main reason why the Jets were able to take the Patriots into overtime.
He's also the main reason why the Jets lost to the Patriots in overtime, thanks in part to Patriots linebacker Rob Ninkovich not only sacking Sanchez on 2nd-and-10 at the Jets' 40 in overtime, but forcing (and recovering) a fumble to seal the Patriots' 29-26 victory.
The loss puts New England in a position it has held for the last decade—first place in the AFC East. The Jets are now tied for third in the division with Buffalo, a position that could've been avoided had Sanchez shown more awareness on that play.
This is nothing new for the Sanchize, who has teased the Jets with great play in his three-and-a-half seasons with the team to only let it down when it matters most. The game was the perfect microcosm of Sanchez' career thus far.
Taking a look at that play, you will see a total lapse in concentration and awareness. As mentioned earlier, it was 2nd-and-10, with the Jets at their own 40 yard-line. When down three in overtime, you are in four-down territory the whole way, meaning if nothing is available down field and the defender is right in your face when you drop back to pass on 2nd-and-10, taking the snap is your only option as long as you can hold on to the football.
This is best illustrated in this play. Notice how nothing is developing for the Jets. Ninkovich is in Sanchez' face, and Sanchez' only option at that point is to protect the football and take the sack. Does it make third down more challenging? Yes, but again, the Jets are already down three and every down is four-down territory until they get into field goal range. A seven-to-10-yard loss, while tough, is a lot better than a turnover, which ends the game.
Why Sanchez wasn't aware of the situation and panicked by raising his hand to throw as Ninkovich was about to tackle him is a good question that Sanchez himself couldn't answer, stating (per ESPN.com): "We got pressure inside and I didn't feel Ninkovich on the outside."
Only a quarterback lacking awareness and vision could not feel Ninkovich on the outside. The linebacker had shed his block and was able to get in Sanchez' face thanks in part to that pressure coming from the inside. A great quarterback would be aware of such a rush and, at least on second down, would not have tried to be a hero.
Will Mark Sanchez ever lead the Jets to AFC contention again?
This isn't Sanchez' only big mistake of the game, as Sanchez had another bad sack on 3rd-and-7 from the New England 15 late in the fourth quarter. The sack lost the Jets 10 yards, forcing Nick Folk to kick a 43-yard field goal. In the end the Jets' final offensive drive of the fourth quarter was a three-and-out despite the fact that the Jets took possession at the Patriots' 18 thanks to a Devin McCourty fumble on the kickoff return.
Most great quarterbacks get a touchdown in that situation. At least on that play you could blame Sanchez' rhythm, as Tim Tebow was in on first down and only picked up two yards on the ground, while Joe McKnight ran the ball on second down. The overtime play however was costly.
Things will have to change for Sanchez if he is to be considered elite, as the Jets won't seriously contend in the AFC until that is the case.
That is, if it were to ever happen. After four years, I'm not holding my breath.