For Mark Sanchez, two AFC championship games in his first two years as a pro hasn’t been enough to silence his doubters. Tim Tebow took over a 1-4 Broncos team that is now 4-5 under his leadership. Instead of admiring Denver’s re-entry back into the AFC West race since Tebow got behind center, detractors question his ability to throw the football. When the Jets and Broncos take the field Thursday night, you can guarantee that experts and fans will be grading each and every play made by two guys who win, but are expected to do alot more. Two young players who continue to be judged not by their club’s record with them at the helm, but through the lens of how they stack up against the NFL’s elite.
Mark Sanchez never got to sit and observe like top gun Aaron Rodgers did in Green Bay under Brett Favre. The league’s best passer in HIS first three years in the NFL didn’t start one single game. Sanchez? His big league learning, after just one year of major college football at USC (which included a Rose Bowl win), has happened ON the field. Not from the sidelines. While having to face a ruthless New York media simultaneously through the growing pains.
When Sanchez leads the Jets onto the field for the 41st time in his two and a half year career, he’ll be doing so with the jury still out on his ability to lead the Jets past the point of an AFC title game appearance.
Those who feel as though Sanchez threatens the Jets chances of going any further, will point to his lack of confidence in throwing the deep ball, as well as his in game emotional swings, and ill timed interceptions .
Sanchez apologist’s will combat that analysis with the fact that he has led game winning drives in 20 percent of the games he has started in New York. This includes the playoffs, where he has led the Jets twice in second half comeback victories (San Diego, 2009, Indianapolis 2010) in going 4-2. With all postseason games having been played by Sanchez and the Jets on the road during that time.
Tebow has been a savior to some, and a pariah to others. Those who don’t see Tebow lasting over the long haul, target his mechanics, and resulting lack of accuracy (44.8 completion pct), with a desire to run first rather than throw. A collegiate trait for a QB, in the eyes of many pro experts.
Tebow threw a paltry eight passes in the win against divisional rivals Kansas City on Sunday. Two were completed. His best day in the air saw him throw for just 172 yards. Despite plenty of garbage time in order to acquire more during a 45-10 loss to Detroit.
When he rushes the ball however, the once two time first team All American, Heisman Trophy winning, National champion Tebow is 48-320 yds (6.0 avg) with two TD’s. Broncos coach John Fox has taken notice, adding the scholastic option formation into the offense for the former Florida Gator legend. Maybe it hasn’t been pretty, but its worked out in the win column for Fox and co.
A late Bronco comeback in Miami (they trailed 15-0 in the waning moments and won in OT), followed by one against their hated enemy the Raiders, has the Broncos now one game out of first place. Like Sanchez though, the wins haven’t been enough to afford Tebow any blind acceptance.
Both Sanchez and Tebow also suffer from long shadows cast over them around their respective homes. After all, in Denver, there was once the great two time Super Bowl champion Hall of Famer, John Elway. The face of Denver’s franchise and perfect drop back passer, who now sits above in the director’s chair. As the Broncos Executive VP of football operations.
In the Big Apple, the shadow that engulfs Sanchez starts not from above, but from the North. Where the great Tom Brady lives. The Patriots three time champion sits inside of the same division that Sanchez has tried to grab from Brady and master general Bill Belichick. Who thanks to his signal caller and disciplined no named army, have now obtained enough hardware to be considered as one of the great dynasties in the sport.
Brady is a constant source of the ”compare and contrast” talk, which makes it hard for Sanchez to ever come out on top of many arguments. As Brady spreads it around for scores to Welker, Gronkowski, Hernandez and the rest, you can just hear that Jets fan in the bar saying “Sanchez will never do that.” It is true. He may never do that. Sanchez though, IS 3-4 against Brady so far. 1-0 against him in the playoffs.
With both teams currently in second place, Sanchez and Tebow can ill afford to lose on Thursday night. The winner may not be included in the group of key reasons for the victory. The loser, most likely tagged with a lion’s share of the blame for the loss. Facing a scrutiny that not only comes with falling short, but doing so with an unorthodox style, and pedestrian stat line as well.