- Rich Cimini, ESPN Staff Writer
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HOUSTON -- Fight his coach? Mark Sanchez laughed. No, he said, he'd never do that.
"That would be like De La Hoya and George Foreman -- way out of my weight class," the New York Jets' quarterback said after Monday night's 20-16 loss to the Houston Texans. "He'd probably kick my butt."
At times, Sanchez is the personification of California Cool, but his competitive fire raged last season when Rex Ryan told reporters he considered benching his quarterback in the third quarter of a December loss to the Miami Dolphins.
"I wanted to fight him," Sanchez says in the current issue of GQ magazine, which features the Jets' star on the cover. "I was really mad."
After their preseason opener, both Sanchez and Ryan made light of the quote.
"I heard he wanted to fight me, but that's a long line," Ryan said. "I think he's still behind Channing Crowder."
Turning serious, Ryan said he wanted Sanchez to react the way he did, claiming he made the initial comment to send a message to his young quarterback -- that "we can bench anybody on this team, with the exception of [Darrelle] Revis, obviously."
Reflecting on that chapter, Sanchez likened his clash with Ryan to the Steve Young-George Seifert and Phil Simms-Bill Parcells confrontations of yesteryear.
"That's part of the reason Rex drafted me, because I value this job. It's my life," Sanchez said. "If somebody wanted to take that away from me, it's personal."
In retrospect, the entire episode may have been a turning point in the Jets' season. It also was a coming-of-age moment for Sanchez, who raised his stature in the locker room by standing up to his coaches during a tense confrontation in practice -- and playing in pain a few days later in a pivotal win over the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The pressure point occurred three days after Sanchez's poor performance against the Dolphins, his second straight subpar outing. Though he never seriously considered benching his quarterback for the Pittsburgh game, Ryan decided to remove Sanchez for a few plays in practice, giving the first-team reps to Mark Brunell.
At the time, Sanchez hinted that he was upset by Ryan's post-Miami rebuke, expanding on that in the GQ interview: "Rex is super honest. I wish he wasn't that honest at times, especially to say that."
Sanchez, in an interview with ESPNNewYork.com, said he didn't think much of it when he noticed on the practice script that Brunell was slated for some action. For a moment, he thought the coaches had added plays to practice just to give Brunell a little work. He never imagined he'd be coming out.
The third-year quarterback refused to yield to Brunell in practice, according to the GQ article. Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer tried to get Sanchez out of the huddle, reiterating that Ryan wanted Brunell to take reps.
Sanchez refused to budge.
"I was like, 'He can come tell me,'" Sanchez tells GQ. "And (Schottenheimer) is like, 'Come on, man, don't do that.'"
Seven months later, that moment still resonates among players and coaches.
"We had to demand, we had to order him, 'You're done, get out,'" quarterbacks coach Matt Cavanaugh said.
Said veteran guard Brandon Moore: "It was a tense moment ... To see him fight back and press back with that, it was good to see."
Sanchez reflected on the moment. He didn't apologize for his stubbornness; he attributed it to his competitiveness getting the best of him.
"I was really upset about that," he told ESPNNewYork.com. "That's a pride thing. Those are my reps and I take a lot of pride in playing. I knew I hadn't been playing well, but regardless, I was going to prove I was The Guy.
"(Brunell) told me after that, 'That's pretty cool. I never saw anybody do that. Pretty cool.'"
Brunell, 40, who has become a mentor to Sanchez, said he wasn't offended by Sanchez's behavior. Actually, he applauded it.
"It was his huddle, his team and he was exactly right," Brunell said. "I like that. He was pretty fired up about it, but that was the response we were looking for. He came out in that Pittsburgh game and went on a streak."
With a playoff berth possibly at stake, Sanchez went on the road and played one of his most efficient games of the season, leading the Jets to a 22-17 victory. He played most of the game with a bum throwing shoulder, injured early in the contest.
Sanchez played the entire game, now admitting it was hurt worse than he let on. During a sideline conversation with Brunell, Sanchez told his friend, "Dude, this thing is hurting."
That he played hurt, and played well for the remainder of the season and playoffs, cemented Sanchez's status as a team leader, according to several players. Even though he missed practice time due to the shoulder, he led the Jets to their second straight AFC Championship Game, falling to the Steelers.
In retrospect, those seven days -- from post-Miami to the practice standoff to the Pittsburgh win -- were huge for Sanchez and the Jets.
"That," he said, "was definitely a turning point."
Rich Cimini covers the Jets for ESPNNewYork.com.
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