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Wednesday, November 21, 2012
Mark Sanchez was set up to fail

By Jane McManus
ESPNNewYork.com

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- On March 21, the New York Jets acquired Tim Tebow from the Denver Broncos. Before the ink dried on the deal, one veteran quarterback coach suggested that the newly-extended Mark Sanchez should go directly to the front office and ask for a trade. The Seattle Seahawks, led by Sanchez's old USC coach, Pete Carroll, were in the market for a QB, the NFL draft was a few weeks away, and Sanchez might have had options.

"He should've walked straight up to the front office," said the coach. "That's a no-win situation."

Last Sunday's victory in St. Louis -- where Sanchez completed 15 of 20 passes for 178 yards and a touchdown and didn't turn the ball over -- gives the Jets' starter a little breathing space in the middle of a difficult season.

Mark Sanchez, Rex Ryan
Mark Sanchez looked uncomfortable from the start.

Still, this quarterback drama has too often been a comedy of errors. Many are Sanchez's own, but this year is inevitably a product of that March decision. How many teams bring in a backup and are immediately asked when he will start? How many teams game plan each week for their backup? How many neglect critical roster needs while holding a news conference to welcome a celebrity role player?

Overall, Sanchez has not played well for the 4-6 Jets. The offense produced just six points in two games before the much-needed Rams win, and the starting quarterback has thrown four interceptions in the red zone. But, with a sports psychology book tucked into his locker, Sanchez is still the most proficient quarterback on the Jets' roster. Jets coach Rex Ryan has repeatedly backed him this season even as some fans and critics clamor to hand the ball to Tebow.

Sanchez is well aware of the criticism.

"Don't let what somebody else says affect [how you do your job], 'Well, maybe I need to do this more or that more,' because it's just an avalanche," Sanchez said. "You fall into that trap and it will never end. You have to stay true to what you know, keep trusting yourself and like [Nick] Mangold says, keep slinging it."

A struggling starter and a Wildcat specialist. It's hardly the quarterback battle that onlookers expected. There is plenty of blame to go around, starting with the front office.

Mark Sanchez
This season has been hard to watch for them, too.

The Jets had already signed a new backup quarterback before March 21: Drew Stanton. He was a Jet for a week.

Rather than sign two backups, Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum might have opted to focus on any of the other glaring holes in the Jets' offense. Right tackle had been an issue, or finding a capable and experienced red zone receiver with Plaxico Burress gone. The wide receiver position had been a round robin since Sanchez's arrival -- Jerricho Cotchery, Braylon Edwards and Burress had come and gone.

Their replacements? Chaz Schilens, Clyde Gates and rookie Stephen Hill, who needs Stickum for his gloves. Dustin Keller has been the only constant for the developing quarterback and he spent the first part of the season hurt, and then Santonio Holmes went down with a Lisfranc injury.

Look at it from the starter's point of view: Sanchez was not set up to succeed this season. From the moment training camp opened, football analysts were guessing how many weeks it would be until Sanchez lost his starting job. The Jets even orchestrated competing media scrums, Tebow vs. Sanchez. Sanchez -- a confidence player -- has to put on a smile while seeing seeds of locker-room discontent grow around him.

Tim Tebow/Mark Sanchez
Sanchez believes Tim Tebow's not the problem.

It took Sanchez a week to get on a conference call after Tebow came on board. He said all the right things, but he couldn't have been happy. When asked about Tebow's role in September, Sanchez joked, "Selling seats, man."

Listen to Carroll, who certainly has inside information. "This whole [Tebow] factor has been really hard on him," Sanchez's old coach said.

The good thing is that many of the players in his own locker room see that their starter has been dealt a raw hand. The stilted offense that has Sanchez in running a conventional quarterback system is intermittently replaced by Tebow's Wildcat or option scheme. It hasn't worked, and often disrupts the flow of Sanchez's next play.

When asked about the obvious miscalculation this two-system offense has been, Ryan, owner Woody Johnson and new offensive coordinator Tony Sparano spin that they are a play or two away from busting games open, or that the jury is still out.

It's not. Aside from being a win, the Rams game was notable for how little Tebow was inserted into the offense.

Mark Sanchez
Offensive breakdowns have kept him grounded.

Truth is, the situation hasn't been any better for Tebow, who has all but disappeared into the Jets' locker room. Now when pundits discuss Tebow's effectiveness, it's from a historical perspective.

This experiment has failed, and given his guaranteed money Sanchez will likely remain a Jet. Some fans might not get up and cheer about that.

But Sanchez can rewrite the narrative starting now. He will have to rise above the drops and interceptions, and win despite having some second-rate teammates. The running game will have to produce against the Patriots the same way it did against the Rams.

He could look at this season like a bad setup from the start, but this is Sanchez's opportunity to grow up. The Jets aren't out of it yet.

And it's way too late to angle for that trade to Seattle.