As anyone who follows the New York Jets knows, whether it be closely or casually, there are certain topics that are repeatedly beat to death by the media, fan base, observers, etc. There are numerous issues that seem to be debated back and forth, over and over again, without either side making much progress for the sake of their argument. In this new series here at Turn On The Jets, we will touch upon the topics that fans, media members, and anyone who talks about this team, simply need to let go of. For our inaugural edition of this series, we take a look at why the Sanchez debate has become an enigma and simply needs to stop.
Jets fans and Mark Sanchez have, to put it nicely, one of the most interesting relationships a fan base and quarterback can possibly have with one another. Upon entering the league, Sanchez was beloved by this fan base for his confidence, relatively exciting play, and most of all, his promise. After years of marginal-at-best quarterback play, Jets fans finally had something to hope for when New York traded up in the 2009 NFL Draft to select Sanchez with the 5th overall pick. Sanchez joined with the newly hired Rex Ryan to give the green and white faithful new life, after having hopes and dreams of a deep playoff run in 2008 shattered by Brett Favre and a torn bicep.
Sanchez and Ryan started off with a bang in 2009. 3-0 out of the gates, highlighted by a week 2 victory at home over the New England Patriots, where Ryan’s defense held Tom Brady and company to just 9 points. Following the hot start, the roller coaster began. New York followed with 3 straight losses, the worst coming in a week 6 overtime loss at home to the Buffalo Bills, a game in which Sanchez threw a career high 5 interceptions. It was to be expected that a rookie quarterback would struggle, but it can certainly be argued that this is the point where fans began to distrust Sanchez as the savior they had hoped for him to be just a few weeks prior.
The ups and downs of Sanchez’s play continued throughout the 2009 season before the team got hot at the tail end of the year and made a memorable run all the way to the AFC Championship game. After nearly upsetting the Indianapolis Colts and getting to the Super Bowl for the first time since Joe Namath upended that same franchise 40 years prior in one of the greatest upsets in NFL history, Jets fans were again hopeful for what was to come out of Sanchez and Ryan moving forward.
2010 was an extremely promising season for the fan base. Sanchez improved upon his turnover plagued rookie season, and again, led the Jets, with the help of a strong running game and Ryan’s stellar defense, to just minutes from a Super Bowl appearance. Improvement at the position had hopes high entering 2011 for the Jets. Finally, it seemed, the USC product would get over the hump and take the reigns the way the Jets needed him to in a quarterback driven league.
2011 was Sanchez’s best statistical season. 32 total touchdowns (26 passing, 6 rushing), and a career high in yards and passer rating. Yet, the inconsistencies began to become maddening with Sanchez also throwing 18 interceptions and fumbling 4 times, as the Jets sputtered out from their previous seasons of success and finished just 8-8, capped off by the infamous Miami meltdown. Adversity had come to an all time high for the Ryan-Era Jets and his once highly promising quarterback. The talent was clearly there for Sanchez. No one accounts for 32 scores in the NFL without it. But could he eliminate the mental errors and protect the football in order for New York to be consistently competitive? 2012 would be a season of high pressure and scrutiny for the golden boy from California. How would he handle the newly developed criticism, from all followers of the team?
For Jets fans, they hoped and wished that Sanchez would do what Eli Manning did when he was beginning to be written off after 3 years of relative inconsistency. However, Sanchez did just the opposite. 18 interceptions and 9 fumbles later, Sanchez became a punchline, rather than a ray of hope.
Blame can be put on the GM for not providing enough ammunition for the quarterback to succeed. Blame could be put on an incompetent offensive coordinator. The bottom line, however, is that when the going got tough, the once hopeful franchise quarterback wallowed in self-pity. The confidence from 2009 and 2010 was gone. All Jets fans can see now is the guy who hung his head, repeatedly, after committing turnovers. The player who famously butt fumbled. The quarterback who simply did not rise to the calling when the franchise needed him to the most since he was drafted. Patience among the fan base for him to turn the corner and join the highly regarded quarterbacks of the league ran out.
Is it unfair for the burden to be placed primarily on Sanchez? No. This is the NFL. It is a league of quarterbacks. There is no secret about it. Cleveland’s Brandon Weeden seemed to relate directly to the situation with his comments from Browns’ practice on Monday when he said that quarterbacks are praised and criticized in correlation with the team’s success. It is simply the nature of the league and the position. Winning, Weeden said, is the cure for everything. Throw touchdowns and win football games and you’re the toast of the town. Commit turnovers and lose games, and nobody likes you as a player. It is just the way it is.
Recent reports of Sanchez being booed at the Green and White scrimmage for throwing an interception, then cheered for hitting WR Stephen Hill for a beautifully executed long TD pass are a microcosm of that reality. In a recent story by the New York Daily News, Sanchez seemed surprised at the fact that he was booed one minute for an interception, and then applauded for throwing a touchdown. What he doesn’t seem to grasp is that this is a performance based business. Perform well and you will be praised. Perform poorly and you will be criticized. There is nothing more to it.
There seem to be myths circulating around this fan base and within certain parts of the media that fans want Sanchez to fail; that no matter what he does, it will never be enough. That is false, as displayed clearly by the cheers he received for executing that pass to Hill. Nothing makes fans of this league forget poor play faster than success.
It is ignorant to think that the franchise wants Sanchez to fail. What the franchise wants is one of the two quarterbacks in this competition to step up and become a leader of men, someone who can will this team to success. The Jets have taken strides this offseason to upgrade the talent on offense around whoever the quarterback may be. The offensive line has been upgraded. Talented running backs have been brought in. A familiar face at WR has been brought back. A proven offensive coordinator has been hired. Are any of these guys big named, studs right now? No. But with the team’s monetary situation, due largely in part to the contracts given to Sanchez and offensive players who were supposed to be a big part of his growth (Holmes, Ferguson, Mangold), new GM John Idzik did what he could with limited resources to help bolster the offense for the short term.
There is no more waiting for Sanchez to turn the corner. The inconsistencies have taken their toll on this fan base. With a promising rookie waiting in the wings, it is now or never for Sanchez. Call it classless. Call it rude. Call it whatever you want. The fact is, these players are on a large platform. Scrutiny comes with the territory. The time for coddling has passed. As Al Davis famously said, “Just Win, Baby.” That’s all there is to it.