Monday, April 12, 2010 Updated: April 13, 7:32 PM ET
Sanchez must be Super
By Ohm Youngmisuk ESPNNewYork.com
The Jets' stunning overnight acquisition of Santonio Holmes not only cements Rex Ryan's brash bunch as the sexiest team in the NFL and a legitimate Super Bowl contender, but it also puts the GQ face of the franchise even more in the spotlight.
With the oft-troubled Holmes on his way to New York for a bargain fifth-round pick, Mark Sanchez has another big name at his disposal and the pressure to win it all just keeps growing for the 23-year-old quarterback. In only his second season as a pro, Sanchez has a lot more to worry about than following Ryan's color-coded system and knowing when to be aggressive or conservative. Now, he has to get the Jets to the Super Bowl.
By adding Holmes, LaDainian Tomlinson and Antonio Cromartie, the Jets are the undisputed offseason champs. Sorry Dan Snyder, Donovan McNabb was a nice splash but the Jets and GM Mike Tannenbaum win this one easily. It doesn't mean the Jets are guaranteed to win anything else. But it means Ryan and Tannenbaum are willing to do whatever it takes to win.
Holmes is the latest player a team has given up on that Ryan is welcoming in with open arms. It will be on Ryan to make all these personalities mesh, but his larger-than-Manhattan personality will get everybody to buy in and become a cohesive unit because players simply love playing for him. Yes, the Steelers quickly filed for divorce from their Super Bowl MVP wide receiver as if he were an Oscar-winning actress.
Holmes has serious baggage; he's facing a four-game suspension for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy. He also is staring at a lawsuit from a woman who alleges that he threw a glass at her at a nightclub. Still, the wide receiver is worth the risk because he can run terrific routes and make clutch, tip-toeing catches in the corner of the end zone. He will probably be on his best behavior with his new team while playing with one year remaining on his contract. Remember how the last troubled Pittsburgh receiver worked out in New York? Plaxico Burress was a stud in his first three seasons with the Giants, destroying the Packers in the NFC Championship game and then making the game-winning catch in Super Bowl XLII before finally imploding and shooting himself in the thigh in 2008. It started great but ended horribly. The Jets are willing to take that risk.
The Sanchise can't afford a sophomore slump.
Holmes will be motivated to give the Jets his best. That means it will be on Sanchez to get him the ball. By trying to make things easier for their young quarterback, the Jets also are making it clear they can't wait for him to develop. The veteran-heavy Jets are built to win now and they cannot afford Sanchez to experience a sophomore slump in the same manner that Matt Ryan experienced last season with Atlanta.
After leading the Falcons to an 11-5 record and a playoff appearance in his rookie season, Ryan won nine games and missed the postseason last year. Ryan threw for six more touchdowns but was picked off three more times and threw for 524 yards less in his second year. He went through a midseason slump -- losing four of five games in the middle of the season -- and struggled with a toe injury.
Joe Flacco represents the best model for Sanchez since there are so many similarities between the Ravens and Jets. Both Flacco and Sanchez made it to the AFC Championship game in their rookie seasons playing conservatively while their teams won with defense.
Like Ryan, Flacco won 11 games as a rookie but just nine games the following year. But Flacco's completion percentage, yards and touchdowns all went up as the Ravens opened up their offense. Flacco, though, fell one win short of reaching the AFC Championship game again in his second season.
The Jets cannot take a step back with Sanchez in his second year. When Sanchez struggled badly and lost six of seven games after a 3-0 start, some Jets veterans grew frustrated with their Super Bowl hopes riding on a raw risk-taking rookie. But a more conservative Sanchez finished the season strong, winning six of seven before losing to Peyton Manning and the Colts in the conference championship game. With the Jets in do-or-die mode, Sanchez won the last two games of the regular season by throwing no picks. And in his first taste of postseason play, Sanchez completed 60.3 percent of his passes and threw for four touchdowns to two interceptions in three games. In the biggest game of his life, he looked sensational at times against the Colts, throwing for 257 yards and two touchdowns with one interception.
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Now he has to prove that he is indeed the franchise quarterback the Jets think he is. First, Sanchez has to come back healthy after knee surgery, which will cost him valuable offseason workout time. He is expected back in time for training camp, where he has to develop chemistry with not only Holmes but Braylon Edwards while taking advantage of having Jerricho Cotchery as his third receiver. Sanchez won't have Holmes for the first four games of the season, and then he will have to incorporate Holmes back into the mix while keeping Edwards and Cotchery happy and utilizing emerging tight end Dustin Keller. He still plays behind one of the best offensive lines in the game and has a strong running game to lean on while having the rare luxury of a nasty defense that can bail him out.
But all these things that are supposed to make his life easier will also be the same reasons the USC quarterback who loves to surf and listen to '80s music has to win now. With the highly respected Thomas Jones gone, the Jets' offense belongs to Sanchez. He can establish himself as the offensive leader and make this team his own.
Last year at this time, Sanchez was busy trying to prove to teams that he was a franchise quarterback during draft workouts. He was so impressive, the Jets traded three players and two draft picks to move up to take him before signing him to a $50 million contract. Now it's time for Sanchez to rise to the occasion again. He did it during his draft workouts and at the end of last season during the Jets' inspiring playoff run. Now, he has to prove he is truly the Sanchise, a little sooner than expected, and take the next step and lead the Jets to the Super Bowl.
Ohm Youngmisuk covers the NFL for ESPNNewYork.com.