In two seasons as the Jets signal caller, Sanchez’s visits to Gillette Stadium have ended in such disappointment and failure it could be easily argued the Patriots home field had become his personal house of horrors.
As a rookie in 2009, Sanchez had his most forgettable game of the season in Foxborough, completing only 8-of-21 passes for 136 yards, one touchdown and four debilitating interceptions.
Sanchez’s quarterback rating for the game was an appalling 37.1, and not surprisingly, the Jets lost a 31-14 laugher to their heated division rivals.
This season, Gang Green’s second trip to Gillette Stadium in the Rex Ryan era culminated in the team’s worst defeat in 24 years, as well as the poorest performance in the young career of the 24-year-old Sanchez.
With Sanchez completing 17-of-33 passes for 164 yards, no touchdowns and three interceptions to earn a dreadful quarterback rating of 27.8, the Jets received the same 45-3 lambasting from New England they did in 1986 at the hands of the Miami Dolphins.
So as the Jets prepared for their third meeting with the Patriots in Foxboro, this time with a trip to the AFC Championship Game on the line, the onus was on Sanchez to finally exorcise those demons in what his head coach called the second biggest game in team history.
However, whether inadvertently or purposefully, Rex Ryan and starting cornerback Antonio Cromartie created the smokescreen needed to deflect pressure away from the Jets second-year quarterback, allowing Sanchez to focus on improved ball security and executing the game plan formulated by offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer.
And on a glorious Sunday afternoon in Gillette Stadium, Sanchez lived up to every bit of the potential that was seen, when the Jets selected him with the fifth overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft.
Sanchez didn’t just play turnover-free game; he outplayed and outshined Patriots quarterback Tom Brady in leading New York to a 28-21 upset victory and clinching the Jets’ second consecutive trek to the AFC Championship Game.
In the type of performance that should inspire profuse praise from Joe Namath, Sanchez completed 64.0 percent of his passes (16-for-25) for 194 yards and three touchdowns, including a picture-perfect seven-yard touchdown toss to wide receiver Santonio Holmes to give the Jets a 10-point lead early in the fourth quarter.
It certainly helped that the Jets’ offensive line didn’t allow a sack and kept Sanchez from getting hit during the entire game, a stark contrast to Tom Brady’s day at the office.
During the regular season, New England ranked fifth on the New York Life Protection Index, a measure of a team’s aptitude in pass protection, while New York came into the playoffs with the 11th best rating.
However, Brady was sacked five times and hit seven as the Jets pass rush made him extremely uncomfortable in the pocket throughout the game.
On the other side of the ball, Sanchez was afforded a clean pocket to throw in and, as a consequence, figuratively grew up before the nation’s eyes.
Among his accomplishments on the day, Sanchez became the first quarterback since 2000 to throw for three touchdowns against the Bill Belichick-led Patriots in the postseason (Donovan McNabb, Jake Delhomme).
In addition, Sanchez tied a franchise single-game postseason record when he threw his third and most impressive touchdown of the game, joining Chad Pennington, Pat Ryan, Vinny Testaverde and Joe Namath in Jets lore.
More importantly though, Sanchez proved, without a shadow of a doubt, he can be counted to shine on the grandest of stages.
It can also be said, with no equivocation, Rex Ryan, Mark Sanchez and the New York Jets, individually and collectively, exorcised the demons that had been haunting them in Foxboro.