You thought it. I though it. Practically everyone thought the same thing when Jets fell behind 24-0 late in the second half of the AFC Championship on Sunday in Pittsburgh. There is absolutely no way the Jets win this game. It's going to be Packers-Steelers in the Super Bowl.
Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez, who had just had his upper and lower torso seemingly separated in a sack that led to a fumble recovery for a touchdown, dragged himself to the sideline. Heinz Field was rocking, and things didn't look good for the Jets. It seemed their unlikely run through the AFC gauntlet would be over even before the second half's opening kickoff.
Sanchez got up, though, dusted himself off and continued to battle for the Jets. In fact, he got the Jets to within three touchdowns when he marched the Jets down the field for a field goal right before the half ended.
And then he spent the entire second half willing his team back into the game, getting the Jets as close as five points, before he ran out of time, and the Jets saw their title hopes dashed a game before the Super Bowl for the second time in as many years.
Say what you want about the Jets, and say what you want about Sanchez, but if you're a football fan at all, you have to respect Mark Sanchez for what he is as a football player and for what he continues to do in his young career.
When Sanchez is knocked to the canvas, he responds. After a forgettable rookie season last year, he was good enough to propel the Jets to the AFC Championship in his rookie season. Then he made his adjustments, came out this season improving both his numbers and consistency, while doing so with increased expectations.
When the Jets got throttled in December by the Patriots, Sanchez gave everyone the right to believe that Gillette Stadium may be the house of horrors that could haunt his career. All he did to respond was come into Foxboro and beat Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and the vaunted Patriots. Even when the Patriots cut the New York lead to three, Sanchez was there orchestrating a five-play, 75-yard response drive culminating in what is the signature moment his young career — a picture-perfect 7-yard touchdown strike to Santonio Holmes.
There's no doubt that Sanchez has been blessed with admirable surroundings, in what may be the ultimate situation for a young quarterback. The Jets win games behind their defense, and many times, by just not making mistakes, Sanchez can help the Jets hang around. Breaking it down to that, though, is a disservice to what Sanchez continues to do. Someone must put the drives together to get the team back into the rare instances that the defense scuffles some, much like on Sunday.
Sanchez will surely continue to use losses like the past two AFC Championship games to build confidence. It's easy to forget that Sanchez has now completed just two seasons in the NFL, and he's already won four playoff games — all of them on the road.
Off the field, Sanchez has shown that he's not only a student of the game, but he respects the game. HBO delivered a glimpse into that when they aired Hard Knocks during training camp, and Sanchez was often seen working with offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer to tackle another aspect of the offense. Sanchez knows his role. On a team that is notorious for chirping and talking, Sanchez seems perfectly content doing his talking on the field.
In New York, Sanchez' head coach sure has confidence in his young signal-caller.
"Eventually, he's going to be one of the best quarterbacks in the league," Jets coach Rex Ryan told the media in the moments following Sunday's loss. "And I think it's going to be sooner rather than later."
Is that hyperbole? It may be. Sanchez may never be one of the game's elite passers, racking up MVP trophies, Pro Bowl selections annd re-writing the record book. That said, he's making it increasingly difficult to bet against him having a career of prolonged success.
Love him or hate him, Mark Sanchez is showing that he has what it takes to be a winner in the NFL. And in due time, that may be bad news for the rest of the league.
Powered by WordPress.com VIP