FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- The outside criticism is mounting. Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez, mired in a three-game slump, knows people are questioning him. He gets that, but he wonders if people inside the organization -- perhaps head coach Rex Ryan -- are wavering, too.
Sanchez was called out by Ryan on Sunday, after the New York Jets' 10-6 loss to the Miami Dolphins, and that may have touched a nerve, judging from cryptic comments Wednesday from the second-year quarterback.
"It's a good challenge for me early in my career, where people might doubt, even in the building," Sanchez said, describing the task of trying to rebound.
Asked if he senses doubt in the building, Sanchez replied with a nervous laugh.
"It could happen," he said. "It's a tough business now. You just have to be thick-skinned. You just need to be ready to play and I will."
Sanchez offered a terse response, uncharacteristic for him, when asked if he believes Ryan doubts him based on the coach's public, postgame admission that he considered inserting 40-year-old backup Mark Brunell in the third quarter.
"You could say that, I don't know," Sanchez said. "Ask Rex."
Trouble in paradise?
On Monday, Ryan issued a strong vote of confidence, but he followed that up by admitting Wednesday that he'd consider pulling Sanchez if he struggles Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers -- a huge road game for the reeling Jets (9-4).
"Do I think that's a real possibility? I think Mark Sanchez is our quarterback," Ryan said. "If we really struggled, for whatever reason, would I make a move? Yes, if I thought it was the best thing for our team."
This isn't a quarterback controversy, far from it, but this is an enormous game for Sanchez, who has five interceptions, only one touchdown and a 43 percent completion rate over the past three games. His passer rating has plummeted to 74.2, the lowest in the AFC. And the Jets have gone eight quarters without a touchdown.
Unfortunately for Sanchez, he has to face arguably the best defense in the league.
Despite the intense pressure, Sanchez has remained upbeat, according to teammates. Behind the scenes, he has tried to rally them with inspirational words on the practice field and in the meeting rooms. This isn't his first taste of adversity -- it got pretty rough last season -- but the pressure never has been this great because of the team's heightened expectations.
Now his coach has made his job security a question.
"It's something that can't rattle you as a starter," Sanchez said. "I'm the guy. Those offensive guys rally around me. That's always going to be Rex's decision. It's his prerogative to choose who his quarterback is. As long as it's me, I'm playing my heart out for this team and I think the guys know that.
"I'll take all the reps I can get and I'll be ready to play, just like always."
Sanchez struggled with his accuracy against the Dolphins because of sloppy footwork, according to Ryan. That will be an emphasis this week in practice. Instead of happy feet, Sanchez's feet must be set before he throws. Of course, that's not easy with pressure in your face, and the Steelers -- led by bookend rushers James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley -- bring plenty of heat.
"These are the kind of situations you want to play for," Sanchez said. "You don't want to be a losing team and playing other losing teams. This really tests your mettle."