FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Mark Sanchez realizes it wasn’t
the safest move to dive headfirst into the end zone after taking a hard hit.
The New York Jets rookie quarterback still wouldn’t
change a thing about it.
“I think it was important for the guys to see that,”
Sanchez said Wednesday. “To let them know what kind of player I am and how
important it is to me and how much I care.”
On the Jets’ opening drive Sunday against Tennessee,
Sanchez dropped back and looked for an open receiver. Not seeing a viable
option, he took off. A few yards from the end zone, he lowered his head like a
fullback, took a hard shot from Titans safety Michael Griffin and spun his way
over the goal line for a 14-yard touchdown.
“He had his head buried like an ostrich or something like
that,” right tackle Damien Woody said with a laugh. “I haven’t seen anything to
that extent before.”
It might have also been a moment the Jets point to as the
day Sanchez truly became their leader.
“That play epitomizes what we want to be all about with
this football team,” Woody said. “We want to be tough, smart and have that
desire to do whatever it takes. That’s what it was.”
Sanchez celebrated the scoring scramble with high-fives
and hugs from his fired-up teammates. He also got a few warnings, including from
coach Rex Ryan and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer.
“I think Schotty came over to him on the sideline and
said, ‘Great play,'” backup quarterback Kellen Clemens said. “Then he said,
‘Don’t do it again.'”
That’s not to say Sanchez won’t shy away from running.
“They just said, ‘Be careful,'” Sanchez said. “Coach
Ryan knows that is the way I am, the way I play. … At the same time, you need
to care enough to take care of your body and be a starter for a long period of
time. I have to be smart.”
The last thing the Jets want to see, of course, is their
franchise player – The Sanchize – injured after taking an unnecessary chance.
“As quarterbacks, we don’t get a lot of contact where we
actually get to see it coming,” Clemens said. “So, anytime one of us makes a big
block or lowers their shoulder on somebody and actually wins, it’s a pretty
exciting thing for us. You’d just rather he not take too many of those head-on
Running back Thomas Jones, who has 50 career touchdown
runs, enjoyed watching his quarterback show some grit.
“I’d like to see him keep his head up, though,” Jones
said of Sanchez’s technique. “You don’t want to see him get hurt. Anytime you
lower your head like that, you take a chance of getting your neck hurt, but he’s
a tough guy.”
That’s the reputation Sanchez has carved for himself in
just three NFL games.
“He just falls in line with everybody else,” Woody said.
“He’s not trying to be a prima donna or anything like that. He just wants to be
one of the guys, and that’s exactly what he’s doing.”
Sanchez, the fifth overall pick out of Southern
California, has the Jets off to a 3-0 start and is the first rookie quarterback
in NFL history to start a season with three victories.
“One of the best things we did was go out and as an
organization, we wanted to make sure we got this quarterback situation right,”
Ryan said. “If we did draft a young man in the first round, we didn’t want to
miss. I think if you miss on a quarterback in the first round, it kills your
So far, so good for Sanchez. He’s among the NFL’s
leaders in third-down passing and has shown a willingness to make plays with his
legs if he gets in jams.
“Him running that run he ran last week and scoring lets
you know that he’s got good feet,” said Saints safety Darren Sharper, who’ll
face Sanchez and the Jets on Sunday. “Just knowing where guys are coming from in
the pocket, moving around and allowing his receivers to continue to try to get
open, that’s the mark of a good quarterback.”
That’s not to say Sanchez has been without flaws. He
said he was frustrated with himself for not handling the football better after
fumbling twice and turning it over once against Tennessee. Despite having what
he says are big hands, he fumbled on two other occasions in previous games.
“We’ve been doing some good stuff, holding the ball with
two hands since it was all over the place on the film,” said Sanchez, who has to
run laps if he drops the ball in one hand. “I’ve been getting a lot of heat for
that, so I need to be smarter with the football. I can’t afford to put the ball
on the carpet like that.”