Mark Sanchez has become arguably the most highly criticized quarterback in the National Football League. Over the course of his career, Sanchez has become well known for his maddening inconsistency, something that has put him in the doghouse with the New York Jets fan base time and time again. However, following this week’s overtime loss to division rival New England, Sanchez unjustly received a heavy amount of blame for the loss from the fans and media, seemingly out of habit. Yes, Sanchez threw a poor interception. All quarterbacks do, it is part of the game. Sanchez also fumbled in overtime, a play that ended the game and crowned the Patriots victorious. However, what many are failing to realize is that, if not for Sanchez, the Jets likely would not have even been in position to fumble it away in overtime.
The debate will continue about this game until the Jets kickoff against Miami this Sunday at home. However, the bottom line pertaining to the New England game is that Mark Sanchez was the least of the Jets problems this past Sunday. The defense proved a notion we all knew: there is no closer on this group that can strike fear into an opposing quarterback on a final drive. The coaching became wildly conservative down the stretch, both offensively and defensively. Whatever the case may be for the loss in New England, Sunday’s game was much more about the growth of Mark Sanchez, rather than the two poor plays he may have made throughout the game.
Sunday witnessed Sanchez, a quarterback who has been left for dead by many over the past few weeks, go into a hostile environment and statistically outperform Tom Brady in his own house. Yes, Sanchez’s 28 completions on 41 attempts gave him a season high 68.3 completion percentage, nearly 7% higher than Brady’s 61.9%. Additionally, Sanchez’s 328 yards were greater than Brady’s 259. Outside of the poor interception, there is no statistical argument for which quarterback played the better game.
Statistics aside, this game saw a growth of Sanchez that we have not seen since the quarterback arrived in New York. When have we seen Sanchez take his team 92 yards down the field in the 4th quarter, on the road, on 9/10 passing and a touchdown to set his team up with a chance to take the lead? In his 4th season, people will not want to hear it, but the USC product is still growing, and Sunday proved just how much room he still has to achieve that growth.
Now, as far as Sanchez’s future with the team is concerned, we can sit here and discuss how the QB has been given an unfair slate to work with including a budget wide receiver corps and the acquisition of Tim Tebow, but we have repeatedly beat that drum, and quite frankly, the theme is played out and irrelevant at this point. The bottom line is, Sanchez is playing with the receivers, backs, and offensive line that he has been given, and he is beginning to play well. Good quarterbacks elevate the play of those around them, and that is exactly what we are starting to see Sanchez do. The Jets have adamantly defended Sanchez as the franchise quarterback, a notion many believed to be false after the team traded for Tim Tebow, however, Sunday proved it to be nothing but the truth. Mark Sanchez is the quarterback of the New York Jets for now, and for the future, and there are several reasons to examine as to why this is the case.
In his first two seasons with the Jets, Sanchez was merely a game manager for a team built primarily on defense and a high-powered rushing offense. Both the defense and offensive line ranked among the top of the league, and the basic belief was that Sanchez would serve as the game manager to complement these groups, until his development matured to the point where he could take this team over. What the Jets failed to realize in Sanchez’s third year, is that he was not yet mature enough to take on that role. In 2011, New York put their faith in Sanchez by cutting costs on the offensive line and receiving corps (with the exception of Santonio Holmes), believing that it was the year their quarterback could elevate the play of the average players that were put around him. Unfortunately, Sanchez was not ready, and following two consecutive AFC Championship game appearances, high expectations were not met. Sanchez, of course, was the fall guy. Whether it was just or unjust, New York is the ultimate “What have you done for me lately?” market, so naturally the majority of the blame was put on Sanchez. An attitude began to develop amongst this fan base that, perhaps, he was not the quarterback of the future.
However, Sunday proved that notion to be completely wrong. Is Sanchez maddeningly inconsistent? Yes, no one is debating that here. However, Sanchez’s inconsistencies are becoming much less frequent, they are just magnified to the highest degree. Early in Sanchez’s career, his inconsistencies were tolerated because the supporting cast around him usually picked them up. Now, Sanchez’s supporting cast is not nearly as strong, so the burden is on him to carry this team, a role that he is slowly easing into.
Sanchez’s inconsistencies are also much more discussed because of the market he plays in. This is New York, where excellence is demanded. This fan base has zero patience, and if the first guy in line isn’t getting it done, there is an immediate call for the next guy. But is Sanchez the only inconsistent quarterback in the NFL? Absolutely not. Could you imagine if quarterbacks like Jay Cutler, Michael Vick, or Cam Newton were on this team? They would be massacred just as bad, if not worse, than Sanchez.
When it comes to the Jets, the truth is, that Mark Sanchez is, by far, the best option at quarterback for now and for the future. Look at the alternatives. Are you going to hand the offense over to Tim Tebow and become truly one-dimensional? The Jets would be foolish to do so. Tebow could not complete Sanchez’s touchdown pass to Dustin Keller from this past Sunday once out of one hundred attempts. Whether he is a competitor or not, Tebow is not nearly the NFL quarterback that Sanchez is, and the coaching staff knows this. Why do you think Tebow gets only a handful of plays each week?
The second option to possibly replacing Sanchez is to draft another quarterback. This would set the Jets back a minimum of five more years. This team needs pass rush help in the worst way possible, and using a first round selection on a quarterback, just 4 years after trading up to acquire Sanchez with the fifth overall pick would be downright foolish. Talk about a market that has very little patience, and you want to replace Sanchez, a player on the cusp of taking the next step, with a guy who you’d essentially be starting completely over with? Not going to happen, Jets fans.
New York’s fan base should not be discouraged by this, but should rather be excited about Sanchez as their quarterback. Yes, he has the flaws listed above, but he is also beginning to develop a moxie that we haven’t seen from him. When watching the Jets, we are beginning to see glimpses of Sanchez displaying the attitude that this is his team. The comparisons to Eli Manning’s early career are frequent, yet completely warranted. You can’t help but think about how Tiki Barber came out and knocked Manning after his third year in the league, following the running back’s retirement, eerily similar to how LaDanian Tomlinson came out and claimed that the organization babied Sanchez, and questioned whether or not he could ever truly develop into a great player.
Manning also took a giant step forward when the Giants lost Jeremy Shockey, a diva tight end who demanded the ball, during their first Super Bowl run, eventually trading the fan favorite away the following offseason. Could that be what we are seeing take place with the recent loss of Santonio Holmes? Maybe, maybe not, but the bottom line is that Sanchez is finally beginning to develop some cohesion with his offensive teammates. The chemistry being built with guys like Jeremy Kerley and Stephen Hill is extremely encouraging and obvious. Since the loss of Holmes, Kerley has established himself as the Jets top receiving option, hauling in 15 passes for 238 yards in the past 3 games. Hill, on the other hand, is beginning to develop a feel for his new quarterback, as displayed by the adjustment he made on the route on his touchdown reception against the Colts a couple of weeks ago. Dustin Keller proved to be a deadly option for Mark Sanchez in his first game back, something many expected him to do. The running game is suddenly rejuvenated and we are seeing formerly questioned guys like Shonn Greene and Joe McKnight now being praised for playing through injuries and displaying an extreme sense of dedication and tenacity.
The skinny on Sanchez and this team is simple. The core of this offense is in place with an abundance of young players that are developing more and more each week. Sanchez will prove to be the glue that holds it all together, for a group that has an extremely promising future. This offense could potentially develop into one of the most cohesive and talented units in the league in the years to come. Abandoning that now by getting rid of Sanchez would simply be foolish, and would likely go down as yet another move that would haunt this franchise for years to come.