Standing Up for Sanchez

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Two and a half seasons into the Rex Ryan era – which is, by the way, one of the most successful stretches in the history of the New York Jets – it seems a little crazy to have to do what I’m about to do.

I need to defend the quarterback.

Because even though the Jets have won 25 of their last 40 regular season games, plus 4 playoff games, a large segment of the media and Jets fan base remains thoroughly unconvinced that Mark Sanchez is capable of leading this team to their ultimate goal of winning the Super Bowl.

The modern NFL fan lives in the Golden Age of Overanalysis.  Anyone with a computer can pontificate on a sport that is nearly impossible to reduce to simple and absolute terms.  The easiest target for praise and criticism is of course, the quarterback. It is bad enough that ESPN, which sets the agenda for all sports discussion, has declared this “The Year of the Quarterback” and has even devised their own ratings system to try and replace the traditional NFL Passer Rating statistic.

For these reasons, Jets fans have spent the last three years debating Sanchez.  So allow me to make it easy for you: Mark Sanchez is indeed more than good enough to lead the Jets to the promised land.  You can relax now.

This past Sunday’s game against Buffalo was a microcosm of Sanchez’s career so far.  At halftime, there was hysterical panic among Jets fans because of the two costly errors Sanchez made: a drive-killing endzone interception and a botched snap after the Jets’ defense had produced a turnover late in the second half.

However, as he has on numerous occasions throughout his career, Sanchez raised his game in the second half.  He led the Jets on four consecutive scoring drives which provided more than enough points to beat the Bills, who were struggling to get yards against a ferocious Jets defense.  Outside of the interception, Sanchez was nearly flawless on the day, completing 71% of his passes and firing a laser of a touchdown to Santonio Holmes, the type of throw that proves Sanchez has some pretty impressive raw ability when he puts it all together.

And that’s really the key with the Sanchez debate: the when.  In this age of instant gratification, fans are tired of hearing the argument that he’s young and still developing.  But the truth is that he is. He’s 24 years old.  Some perspective: Aaron Rodgers, the “Elite (there’s that damn word again) Quarterback Du Jour” didn’t start an NFL game until his age 25 season.  By the way, the Packers went 6-10 in Rodgers’ first season.

Really, Sanchez never needs to be Aaron Rodgers, or Drew Brees, or Peyton Manning.  He just needs to be the best possible version of himself.  The version that shows up in big games and in the playoffs.  The version that outplayed the best – Tom Brady – in Foxboro last January, giving Jets fans their most memorable and important victory since Super Bowl III.

Here’s the thing though: he’s going to make more mistakes.  I hate to break that to you, but it is true. He’s going to have more bad games. To expect that he’s not, is foolish. What should comfort every Jets fan is that this is true of every single quarterback in the league, Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady (who, by the way, has thrown 10 interceptions this season; Sanchez has thrown 7) included.  Mistakes and interceptions happen.  That’s just football.

And so, we need to be fair to Sanchez, which I don’t think a lot of people have been. Every bad throw cannot be a referendum on his career. Instead, look at his statistical progress. Look at his performance in important games. Look at the team’s record since 2009.  Most importantly, look at his youth and the fact that the Jets have stability at the most important position for the first time in a long time.  Look at some of the other teams in the NFL, who are currently quarterbacked by guys named Beck/Grossman, Jackson, Moore, McCoy, Painter, Gabbert, Tebow, Ponder and Skelton.

Wouldn’t you rather have Mark Sanchez?  I know I would.

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