Mark Sanchez catches a lot of heat for his team winning "in spite" of the young quarterback's play, but history shows us that he may be a lot better than he's given credit for being. He's a mere sophomore in the NFL, yet he is doing something on January 23 that no other quarterback in NFL history has done: playing in his second-straight AFC championship as the QB of a wild card team in only his second season.
Joe Namath, a Hall of Fame QB for the New York Jets, made it to the Super Bowl, but it took him a four years to get there. Sanchez is on the verge of doing that in half the time it took the great Joe Namath with a win against the favored Pittsburgh Steelers in this week's game.
This game could very well come down to play of this young QB. Going up against the league's No. 1 team at defending the run, the Jets are going to have to pass the ball efficiently and effectively. That puts a great deal of pressure on the shoulders of young Mark, but if he carries that pressure well and gets the job done, it will be a huge step in building a legendary legacy in Jets franchise history.
Jets head coach Rex Ryan seems to have faith in his young QB, and so does the rest of the team. If we look at the numbers, there is good reason for that respect. Sanchez hasn't set the record books on fire with his play, but he's improved from last season and is winning close games by not turning the ball over.
Sanchez has thrown for over 3,200 yards this year, which is up from 2,400 last season. He's upped his TD pass count by five from last season while throwing seven fewer interceptions, and his QB rating has improved by more than 12 full points. He even managed to lead his team to an extra two wins this year.
If you put Sanchez's stats side by side with those of Joe Namath in his first two seasons, Sanchez has thrown for 5,735 yards to Namath's 5,599 yards. Namath threw for eight more TDs than Sanchez—37 to 29—but Sanchez has thrown nine fewer interceptions than Namath did. Namath couldn't complete more than half his passes in his first two seasons, while Sanchez has completed a respectable 54.4 percent of his passes.
Detractors may bring up the fact that the game has changed since then, but Sanchez has only attempted 60 more passes than Namath did in his first two seasons. The Jets now play a similar style of football to the Jets of Namath's day—a run-first offense with a hard-nosed defense.
While Sanchez doesn't have impressive, gaudy stats, he does have wins and is the leader of the Jets offense. His role with the team has evolved to being more than just a guy who most people hope doesn't screw up. He's now trusted to manage the game and make plays when they need him to. He's done just that in nearly every circumstance where he has had to this season.
If the Sanchise can continue his efficient play this week and get a win against the Steelers in Pittsburgh, he'll be on his way to becoming a legendary Jets quarterback. If Sanchez's team wins its next two games, he'll certainly be in the conversation with Namath if he isn't already there.
Remember, history is written by the winners. If the Jets are winners this season, history will be written by Mark Sanchez.