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Thursday, August 18, 2011
Rex Ryan: Mark Sanchez is 'elite'

By Rich Cimini
ESPNNewYork.com

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez has no Super Bowl rings, no Pro Bowls, not even a season in which he completed 60 percent of his passes. But he's an "elite" NFL quarterback, according to his coach.

"When you talk about elite quarterbacks, I think he's an elite quarterback because he wins the big games and he's a winner," Rex Ryan said Thursday. "That's all I want him to do -- just win. Don't worry about anything else. The stats will take care of themselves, let's just go out and win. Hopefully, he can't play in the Pro Bowl anyway."

Sanchez was winning last season, helping the Jets to a 9-3 start, but he was nearly benched during a loss to the Miami Dolphins. That near-benching put a temporary strain on his relationship with Ryan, prompting the now-famous quote from Sanchez that appears in the current issue of GQ magazine: "I wanted to fight him."

Ryan pointed to Sanchez's four playoff victories, all on the road, as the basis for his "elite" comment. After only two seasons, Sanchez is tied with Len Dawson, Jake Delhomme, Joe Flacco and Roger Staubach for the most postseason road victories.

The coach stopped short of putting Sanchez in the Tom Brady/Peyton Manning class.

"No, not those two," Ryan said. "Those two have won Super Bowls. Peyton Manning's won a Super Bowl and he's won a zillion games and, in my opinion, (is) the best quarterback in football. And you have Tom Brady, who has only three Super Bowls, been the MVP of the league probably three times. We're a ways from there."

Ryan said Sanchez "can be in the conversation" if the Jets win a Super Bowl. Sanchez didn't want to put a label on himself, but he agreed with Ryan that a championship would define him.

"I know my skill set and I know I'm getting better," he said. "Once we win a Super Bowl, then maybe I'll have an opinion on that, but until then, we're just trying to win games."

One area he needs to improve in is accuracy. Sanchez completed only 55 percent of his passes last season, although that number jumped to 61 percent in the postseason. Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer and quarterbacks coach Matt Cavanaugh told him 55 percent isn't good enough. They want him to take his playoff efficiency into the regular season.

"We need that from him all year long," Cavanaugh said. "That's going to make us a more productive offense."

"When he's under the big lights in the big games, he knows what's at stake," Cavanaugh continued. "He steps up, he makes better decisions and hits the open guys more accurately. There's something about those games that excite him. What we want him to understand is that, if you do those things in the regular season, we're going to get home-field advantage and a playoff game at home."

Ryan also commented on Giants quarterback Eli Manning, who recently said he thinks he's in the same class as Brady. Ryan says Manning is "great," but "is he Tom Brady and Peyton? Probably not. But he's pretty darn good."

Rich Cimini covers the Jets for ESPNNewYork.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.