History will remember Mark Sanchez as the rookie quarterback who led the Jets to the playoffs for the first time in three years.
However, had they faced the Colts a couple months earlier, or any of their Wild Card competition done their jobs down the stretch, he would be remembered in a much different light: the only quarterback of a team that didn't make the playoffs with a number one rush offense and best overall defense.
After the Jets flip-flopped draft slots with the head coach that had been run out of town, it appeared Mark Sanchez had landed a dream job. The quarterback who played his ball in Hollywood would go across the country to a team that boasted the AFC’s leading rusher from the previous season and a talented defense that was inherited by a defensive mastermind.
Not many quarterbacks selected in the top five find themselves in that type of situation. Couple that with the fact that the quarterback taken four slots ahead of him was starting for a team that hadn’t won in over a year, and Sanchez had plenty to be thankful for.
Following an off-season full of promises and declarations from the head man and his ball players, Sanchez and the Jets cruised to a smooth start, winning their first three. Although not the focal point of the hot start, Sanchez was throwing the ball efficiently, compiling four touchdowns to just two interceptions.
That’s when things started to become crazy for the rookie. After a hiccup for the Jets defense at Miami, Sanchez self-destructed for the first time in New Orleans.
Against a pass defense that has proven to be soft over the past two months, he gave the Saints fourteen points with a pick six thrown in the red zone, and a costly fumble in the end zone on a play in which the ball should have been out of his hands much sooner.
Of course, mistakes such as those are to be expected early in a quarterback’s rookie season.
The problem is the mistakes remained prominent throughout the next three months. And the only reason the problems appeared to have been addressed is because of a corny color system instituted by a desperate coach following a five game losing streak.
But the reality is Sanchez hasn’t had the opportunities to make mistakes. Despite unequivocally having the league’s most dominant rushing attack, Sanchez played so poorly the last three months that his coach did anything to avoid putting the ball in the kid’s hands in games 15 and 16, one of which in a dome against a backup defense.
It’s gotten to the point where a wide receiver playing quarterback attracts more respect from a defense than a three-step drop by Sanchez.
Last night, Cris Collinsworth astutely pointed out that there was no quarterback in the league touched less than Sanchez. His defense is ranked number one in the league, and his team has rarely trailed by more than a touchdown during the course of the season. Yet he has still thrown 20 picks and played poorly enough to provoke his coach to move forward without Sanchez being an important part of the game plan.
Imagine if the Lions had a change of heart on draft day and deemed Sanchez their man going forward? I don’t think thirty interceptions would be out of the question. Seriously.
It’s not the mistakes that should have the Jets pessimistic about his 2009 performance, but other aspects of the game. Many correlate great quarterbacks with having the “it” factor, a label is likely associated with the quarterback’s ability to take over a game or lead a miraculous comeback.
Has Sanchez done anything to show that he has “it?” In only one game this year has he had to drive the Jets to a touchdown or they would lose, and it came at home against the Dolphins. He actually was playing well that day, and they managed to move the ball inside the red zone. But he was unable to complete the drive, and ultimately turned the ball over on downs.
Another instance in which the Jets needed Sanchez to lead a comeback was against the Falcons just a few weeks ago. It would have been an unspectacular comeback had he even pulled it off. A minute and a half left, two time outs, a suspect secondary, and about fifty yards to get into field goal range.
Still, he throws a ball right into the gut of the Falcons defensive back before he can accumulate one first down.
His immaturity is open for criticism, too. His demeanor following personal failure has already been reprimanded, which is a problem in itself. But everything else about him reeks of childishness.
Eating the hot dog on the sidelines has been ridiculed enough so I won’t go into further detail regarding that one. Even though I still don’t get what was going through his mind when he did it. A stomachache? C’mon man.
I’ve noticed that after the majority of his completions this season he’s run up to the receiver on the other end to give him a hi-five. Apologists would call that leadership, but I don’t think professionals look highly on that type of behavior.
Actually, if you look back to the second Bills game, Sanchez ran all the way down the field to meet with Braylon Edwards after his awful drop to console him. The Jets were unable to get the next snap off before the play clock expired and took a five-yard penalty.
This observation is petty, but trivial criticisms of New York quarterbacks are all part of it. After a nine-yard pass (nine yards!) to Dustin Keller on Sunday night, Sanchez ran up to Keller and did a pound it then explode with his tight end. Seriously? I thought that stuff stopped being cool after high school graduation.
Listen, I understand that he’s a rookie quarterback. And an unusually younger one at that. But in a quarterback driven league, it may not matter how well the Jets can run the ball. The AFC still goes through the likes of Rivers, Brady, and Manning, and Sanchez will have to step up his game if the Jets want to supplant them down the road.