Somewhere in the middle of the two-minute drill that saw New York Jets rookie quarterback Geno Smith complete four straight passes and snap off an eight-yard scamper into field-goal range, the Monday Night Football broadcast showed a lone fan in a white and green jersey amid a sea of Atlanta Falcons maniacs.
He was an average Joe, looking fraught with nerves as the clock ticked and as he prayed against a momentum- and game-ending turnover. Only, he was wearing a No. 6 Mark Sanchez jersey, and the long-haired former starter was cheering from the sideline. But that was the least of the irony.
According the the New York Times, Sanchez took off for Florida on Tuesday to repair the torn labrum in his shoulder. The operation for the injury, which Dr. James Andrews said "clearly needs to be addressed surgically," ended Sanchez's season.
So just a day after his replacement led his former team to a 30-28 victory on prime time and reinvigorated the Jets franchise, Sanchez's career in New York likely came to a floundering, improper conclusion.
It is difficult not to feel for Sanchez. He was the fifth pick in the 2009 draft and, in his rookie and sophomore seasons, brought the Jets to the brink of the Super Bowl, losing in the AFC Championship in consecutive years.
After the 2011 season, when the Jets missed the playoffs at 8-8, Sanchez was caught in a firestorm of departing coaches and criticism from his teammates.
He had achieved his career-high in passes, completion percentage, passing yards, touchdowns and passer rating, but many were calling for his head and most were doubting whether he was truly the Jets' quarterback of the future.
When Tim Tebow came to Broadway prior to the 2012 season, it was just as painful to watch Mark Sanchez answer the onslaught of questions as it was to see Sal Paolantonio relentlessly grace the television screen from OTAs, training camp, preseason and team bathroom breaks.
Whether Sanchez would have admitted it or not, the adverse effects of the increased scrutiny on him and on the locker room were abundantly clear. The Jets went 6-10 and finished third in the AFC East. Sanchez's touchdowns dropped from 26 to 13, his fumbles increased from four to nine and his passer rating declined to 66.9. The Jets were 30th in total yards, total pass yards, pass yards per game and 28th in total points and points per game.
Sanchez did not lose his starting role when the Jets selected Geno Smith 29th overall in the 2013 draft, but he definitely was forced to compete for it.
Then, in the third preseason game, the one in which Week 1 begins to loom near and final adjustments and roles have begun to take place and be filled, Sanchez was injured. The irony is that Smith played most of the game and Sanchez was inserted late in the fourth quarter.
Instead of making a case for the starting role, Sanchez entered the game with the second-stringers, fumbled on his opening drive and suffered his shoulder injury on the subsequent one.
What's worse is how he has repeatedly and incessantly said all the right things to the media and to his teammates—during criticism from his own team, while a backup quarterback was the focus of the attention for an entire season and when his front office signed a young and exciting quarterback with their first selection and with greater implications.
Following the injury, he even said (per the New York Post), "What’s done is done," and, "I don’t think you heal right if you hold grudges. That negative stuff doesn’t help. It’s over, it’s done with. I’ve moved on, and we’re moving on together."
The front office sounded just as pleasant, as the New York Times reported Tuesday that general manager John Idzik said Sanchez has "our full support for a complete recovery."
But can we really believe Sanchez hold no grudges, and can we really trust that Idzik and the front office would truly like Sanchez to recover as a Jet?
Neither scenario is likely at this point. And, though Sanchez signed an extension in March of 2012, the Jets would save more than $8 million should they release him following the 2013 season.
Sitting at 3-2 and second in the AFC East with a confident rookie who has led three come-from-behind victories, it is much more likely we have just seen the conclusion of Sanchez as a New York Jet.
And on Wednesday, for the first time in a while, there is the surfacing of a development that should make you finally believe Mark Sanchez—if not believe in him.
The New York Post reports the following of a rumor that has emerged from late August:
[T]he Jets quarterback’s emotions came out in a behind-the-scenes fit in the immediate aftermath of being hurt in the fourth quarter of a preseason game against the Giants.
Sanchez shouted at general manager John Idzik in the trainer’s room after the game, according to witnesses. Sanchez was furious the team put him in the game when it did...
Suddenly the smile that was smeared across Sanchez' face as Nick Folk's 43-yard game-winning kick beat the Falcons appears more ironic. His fist-pumping celebration is the icing on the cake.
He very well may be happy for Geno and proud of the team that drafted him four years ago. But it appears that the Jets and Sanchez may truthfully want no part of each other by 2014.