- Jane McManus, Reporter & Columnist, espnW.com
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CORTLAND, N.Y. -- After the Jets missed the playoffs in his third season under center, some of Mark Sanchez's own teammates were quietly asking whether he was capable of ever being a franchise quarterback.
There is another New York quarterback who faced the same kind of doubts on the eve of his fourth season: Eli Manning, who just led the Giants to their second Super Bowl win during his tenure.
“I looked into it, seen how successful he’s been, seen how he’s weathered the storm and played really well,” Sanchez said. “And I mean his game is unbelievable, he’s doing a great job.”
The two have comparable early-career numbers. In his first three seasons in the NFL, Manning completed 48.2, 52.8 and 57.7 percent of his passes in the regular season. Sanchez completed 53.8, 54.8 and 56.7 percent. Both threw 18 interceptions in their third season. Manning threw for 24 touchdowns in his third year, Sanchez for 26.
Sanchez sees the similarities between himself and Manning, and is hoping he can have a breakout fourth year as well.
“That fourth year I think he threw one pick in the playoffs when they won that Super Bowl. One,” Sanchez said. “And he might have thrown 20 in the regular season. I’ve been there -- plenty of quarterbacks have been there. The margin for error in this league is so small.”
Ryan, who drafted Sanchez after arriving in New York in 2009, said that he’s seen a change in his quarterback over time.
“I think he has that natural maturation you get in the fourth year in a system, I think you see that,” Ryan said. “That rookie year it’s like ‘Hey, let's go’ -- whether he knew the system or not, he’s out there winging it. Now he’s a true pro. Four years into it I think you expect it, and you see it.”
Although Sanchez made it to the AFC title game his first two years, some saw it as more of a case of beginner’s luck -- and an outstanding defense. But Sanchez is beginning to see the totality of his career through the eyes of a veteran.
“This stuff doesn’t happen forever, you can’t do this forever,” Sanchez said. “You get one shot -- we really need to take advantage of all these practices. These games are only getting closer.”