Sunday, September 27, 2009
Rocky seas for Jets' dreamboat QB
By Gene Wojciechowski
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Shocking early season NFL developments:
The Cleveland Browns haven't been voted out of league. The Detroit Lions end 19-game losing streak. Lawrence Taylor does weight-loss TV ad while wearing white suspenders.
Mark Sanchez is human. And also undefeated.
"The Sanchise," which is what they're calling the New York Jets quarterback these days, finally discovered there are two sides to being a rookie. He could laugh (sort of) about it later, but the bottom line is that the J-e-t-s are t-h-r-e-e-and-zero, and Sanchez is still alive to discuss the streak.
Rookie quarterbacks, especially ones who signed the largest contract in team history, aren't supposed to Brandon Jacobs it at the goal line, lower their heads and try to power blast their way into the end zone. But that's what Sanchez did during the first quarter of what eventually became a 24-17 Jets victory Sunday against the still-winless Tennessee Titans.
He lived to tell about it, but usually those kinds of plays end with CT scans and the quarterback having his head and helmet Super Glued back to his body. But Sanchez can do no wrong during his rookie season -- and even when he does, the Jets recover.
"I'm loving every part of this," Sanchez said. "This is all I could ever dream of."
Unbeaten and still conscious -- what a deal.
Sanchez's 14-yard TD scramble was the kind of play that earns you lots of respect in a veteran locker room such as the Jets'. Alan Faneca, the New York guard who has spent 12 years in the NFL, told Sanchez, "Nice run." Linebacker Bart Scott, an eight-year vet, praised Sanchez's grit. And Scott, who would marry a microphone if he could find a pastor to recite the vows, happily mocked the Titans defender (safety Michael Griffin) who got super-sized posterized by Sanchez.
"I think that guy should be embarrassed," Scott said. "They should make it a Fathead."
If they do, Jets rookie coach Rex Ryan will buy one and hang it on his office wall.
"Don't let Woody know that I said it was great," said Ryan of the run.
That would be Jets chairman Woody Johnson, the guy who signed off on the draft-day deal that got them the No. 5 overall pick from, sigh, the Browns. Johnson is also the guy who approved the monster, five-year, $50 million contract ($28 million guaranteed) for Sanchez.
So far, Sanchez has been worth every wonderful green Jets dollar. At times -- and Titans coach Jeff Fisher said this earlier last week -- Sanchez plays as if he's been in the league six years. Other times -- and everyone, including the rain-drenched crowd at Giants Stadium could see it on Sunday -- he plays like a rookie in need of a brown paper bag and hyperventilation lessons.
Not that the Jets are complaining.
"You're asking somebody that went one game from the Super Bowl last year with a rookie quarterback," said Scott, who played a season ago with first-year QB Joe Flacco. "You got a rookie quarterback with a helluva team behind him. He's not going to have great games all the time. He's not going to have high-percentage completions all the time. But one thing you can bet on is that we've got his back."
Sanchez went 17-of-30 for 171 yards, with two passing touchdowns, one rushing score, one interception and two fumbles (one lost). It was an uneven performance, the kind of performance every rookie is required to endure.
The difference is that Sanchez didn't melt into a puddle of nerves. He is a rookie, said Jets wide receiver Wallace Wright, "But he's not a rookie anymore."
Understand? In short, the Jets don't have time to hold hands or nurse their quarterback.
This was only Sanchez's third regular-season pro start and, including his days at USC, only his 19th start in the past four years. During Sunday's game he was amazing (the TD scramble) and clueless (holding the ball out on the run like it was radioactive).
"Tuck the ball away," fullback Tony Richardson told him after the play.
"OK, OK, T.R., I will,'' Sanchez said.
Recalling the exchange, Richardson couldn't help but smile.
"He was so excited," he said.
The feeling is mutual. The Jets are 3-0 and it's not like they've beaten up on slugs. They won at Houston in the opener. They popped off about the New England Patriots and backed it up with a win. And they just beat one of the great 0-3 teams in NFL history -- and they did it with a rookie quarterback and after blowing a 14-0 lead. In Week 4 they face the unbeaten Saints in New Orleans.
"I'm not winning these games," Sanchez said. "We are winning these games."
But we didn't crash land into the end zone, Sanchez did. He figures it was his longest TD run since playing at Mission Viejo (Calif.) High School. We didn't execute a perfect fake handoff and then lob a pass to tight end Ben Hartsock for the Jets' second score. And we didn't notice the weakside safety inching up to blitz late in the third quarter, Sanchez did. Which is why he checked off and then threw a four-seam fastball to wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery on a quick slant in the end zone. That TD pass turned out to be the game winner.
"The young buck did a great job," said Cotchery, who also caught a perfectly thrown, over-the-outside-shoulder, 46-yard pass from Sanchez that set up a Jets fourth-quarter field goal.
Sanchez's NFL career is only three games old, but there's lots to like about what he does and how he does it. But if he needs any reminders of how quickly it can all change, he simply has to look at the Titans' inactive list. Among the eight Tennessee players on the list was none other than Vince Young, a Titans team captain in 2007 and the league's offensive rookie of the year in 2006.
Now he's a quarterbacking afterthought.
But why ruin the moment with reality? For now, Sanchez is the quarterback of only the fourth 3-0 Jets team in franchise history. He's the first rookie QB in 40 years to win his first three starts. And, oh yeah, Scott said he had grit.
"That's pretty special to me," Sanchez said. "He knows guys who have it, guys who don't."
Sanchez has it. He also has the Jets atop the AFC East standings. And that's all Jets followers could ever dream of.
|Sometimes, Mark Sanchez (6) shows considerable calm for a rookie. Sometimes, he doesn't. |
Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Hear Gene's podcasts and ESPN Radio appearances by clicking here.