FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Forty-two days after suffering a 42-point loss to the New England Patriots, New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez will head back to the scene of the crime in Foxborough, Mass. It's hard to imagine a loss more difficult to recover from. Sanchez had one of his worst games in his two-year career, and threw three interceptions in the second half.
Asked what went wrong in the game, Sanchez smiled.
"How much ink you got?" he said.
Forty-two days is not a lot of time. Of all the quarterbacks remaining in the playoffs, Sanchez had by far the lowest regular-season quarterback rating at 75.3, trailing the next best, Chicago's Jay Cutler, by 11 points. To compare, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady had the highest at 111. In Foxborough, Sanchez has thrown just one touchdown balanced against seven interceptions. Naturally the question is, has Sanchez really improved enough to prevent another rout?
"I think it's bigger than just me," Sanchez said. "I think it's about our entire team. Last game, obviously, I didn't play well. But in all three phases we didn't play well. That led to the ultimate outcome. We're going to have to play well offense, defense, special teams, and it starts with the quarterback."
Backup quarterback Mark Brunell said the loss to the Patriots was tough, but Sanchez's three second-half interceptions came as the Jets were deep in the hole and needed to pass the ball to make up ground. As a result, Sanchez ended up making riskier decisions.
"They were specific plays and certainly he'd like to have those decisions back, but he learned from them," Brunell said. "That game kind of got away from us and and those things happen, but he's certainly making better decisions now. ... He's playing his best football right now."
The past few games have brought solid, though not stellar performances from Sanchez. He has been hampered by a right shoulder injury, although he said that has improved dramatically. He practiced fully on Wednesday. In the past four games, Sanchez has thrown the ball better and made better decisions on offense.
"Offensively, we're just playing a lot more solid and guys are a lot more in tune to what their specific jobs are," tight end Dustin Keller said. "Mark's doing a better job of going through his reads and making better decisions. I think that one game was uncharacteristic of him this year."
Jets coach Rex Ryan started the week by saying it was his decision-making that lost the game in Foxborough on a blustery, flurry-filled Monday night. He said the game plan was too complicated, and this matchup will be a test of his coaching abilities against Bill Belichick.
Sure it may be a ruse, an attempt by Ryan to throw critics off. The player who could easily find a good deal of scrutiny otherwise would be Sanchez. But even if Ryan is shielding his players from the outside, Sanchez said that doesn't mean he isn't holding them up to their responsibilities on the inside.
"I think we all own up to it and we all know that we had our share of poor decisions and bad plays and bad throws," Sanchez said. "But he's comfortable taking a lot of the blame, and that's fine too. He wants to protect our guys, and we all lost and we all felt bad about it, but it's time to bounce back and learn from those mistakes."
Braylon Edwards named a few of those mistakes Wednesday after a long practice. The Jets wide receiver said Sanchez forced plays in that game, and that offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer has done a better job delivering plays to Sanchez that account for the quarterback's tendencies.
"It's in everybody's nature, especially a competitor, to try to have success on every play," Edwards said. "But sometimes throwing the ball away is a plus or taking the sack is a plus, and I feel like he's gotten better at that."
Perhaps Sanchez's biggest backer on Wednesday was Patriots coach Bill Belichick, who had praise for the opposing quarterback -- without the attending zinger.
"He's done an excellent job in some tough situations and brought the team back and won for them," Belichick said of Sanchez. "I think anytime a quarterback does that, that's what you want on your résumé."
It's certainly easier to praise a guy when you beat him so decisively. But if the Jets can prevail on Sunday, Sanchez might start to annoy Belichick almost as much as Brady does Ryan.