Casting sky-high expectations upon Mark Sanchez after a limited role as a college starter and before he even sniffed the grass of an NFL field appeared to have set him up for one thing and one thing only: complete and utter failure. A 22-year-old playing the most scrutinized position in the most scrutinizing city in America doesn't usually have a happy ending.
Yet somehow, the kid found a way to be excellent.
In his first regular season game as an NFL quarterback, Sanchez showed the poise of a veteran leader, completing a more-than-efficient 18 of his 31 passes for 272 yards and a touchdown and making seemingly every big play he needed to as the Jets beat the Texans in Houston 24-7.
Third-and-10 on the second drive of his career? No problem, as he hit Chansi Stuckey for a gain of 11. Third-and-10 again just two plays later? Sanchez hung in the pocket and found his big tight end Dustin Keller for a big 18-yard gain on the way to a Jets field goal.
The early success became a recurring theme throughout the day, as Sanchez and the Jets converted 10 of 18 third downs and both of their fourth-down conversion attempts.
Sanchez didn't do it alone, of course, getting impressive outputs from both Thomas Jones (20 carries, 107 yards, two touchdowns) and Leon Washington (60 yards on the ground and another 24 through the air). Rex Ryan's defense also came ready to play, limiting Houston to just 183 yards from scrimmage. But Sanchez did what so few young quarterbacks prove to be able to do on a regular basis: win.
He didn't unleash any 60-yard bombs and his stats — which included an interception that was eventually returned for a touchdown — didn't pop off the score sheet, but he showed the promise of stability to a franchise that so desperately needs it at the quarterback position.
Of course, it's just one game, and the Texans could turn out to be, yet again, one of the more overhyped teams in the league. The engraver should hold off on etching Sanchez's name into the Offensive Rookie of the Year trophy, but make no mistake: Mark Sanchez has arrived.
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