FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- The New York Jets are a polarizing team, often cast as the villain because of their bravado. They understand that. What they can't accept -- what really ticks them off -- is when they're treated that way in their own house.
Before the game starts.
Quarterback Mark Sanchez was booed during the pregame introductions last Sunday at MetLife Stadium, shocking and upsetting many of his teammates. Three days later, some of them still were fuming over the lack of fan support for the embattled leader.
"It was just surprising to me," cornerback Darrelle Revis said. "It's disappointing in a way because we feed off our fans."
Tight end Dustin Keller didn't trust his ears, so he asked others if the boos were real.
"I was like, 'Nah, I didn't really hear that,'" Keller said. "It doesn't make sense. It's completely unfair. Obviously, we appreciate our fans cheering for us, but the ones that booed him, it's absolutely not fair."
It was a first for Sanchez, always regarded as a fan favorite -- a winning quarterback with Hollywood looks. His career record is 25-17, with back-to-back appearances in the AFC Championship Game, but he has been inconsistent this season and the Jets, hyped as Super Bowl contenders, are only 6-5.
When he emerged from the tunnel last Sunday to face the Buffalo Bills, the Jets were riding a two-game losing streak, with Sanchez throwing costly interceptions in both contests.
So the fans let him have it. He insisted it didn't bother him.
"You have to understand, and I do -- even as just a third-year player -- this is the market we're in," said Sanchez, who overcame the rude reception and three quarters of lackluster play to stage the eighth fourth-quarter comeback win of his career.
"These fans expect a lot. They expect us to win, just like we do. You can't let that stuff get to you. You have to keep fighting and keep playing for the guys in this locker room."
This week, Sanchez won't have to deal with the home fans. The Jets travel to face the Washington Redskins (4-7).
On Tuesday, safety Jim Leonhard, in a radio interview, sounded off about the fans. He took umbrage with the reaction toward Sanchez, saying, "As players, you kind of turn to each other and say, 'You know what? I guess we're in this one today by ourselves.'"
By Wednesday, others continued the theme, claiming it's not right to blame Sanchez for the offensive struggles.
"It's not tennis, it's not a one-man sport," Revis said. "This is not golf. ... I thought it was unfair, it really was. I was here when they booed Chad Pennington and I've been here when they booed Brett [Favre]. It's disappointing to see."
But fans are fickle, according to Revis, who said athletes need thick skin to last in New York. Rex Ryan said "it's tough being a quarterback. I don't like it, but the fans have a right to boo and cheer."
But booing the quarterback before the game, before his first incompletion?
"I know it's not going to affect him," Keller said, "but it doesn't matter because you want to know, as the starting quarterback of the team, all the fans in the stands have your back. They should; that's our quarterback."
Sanchez has experienced adversity before, but his rookie season (20 interceptions) was the honeymoon and a late slump last season was tolerated because the team was 9-2 and playoff bound.
Different story, this season. Ryan guaranteed a Super Bowl and hyped Sanchez in the preseason, saying he expected his quarterback to make tremendous strides in his third year. That hasn't happened.
Ryan didn't do Sanchez any favors last week, revealing he had benched him for a few snaps in practice in an attempt to motivate him. It was a tacit admission that he wasn't happy with Sanchez's play, and it's possible the fans fed off that.
Interestingly, from the moment the game was over, Ryan has been gushing about Sanchez. Perhaps it's his way of kissing and making up. He praised Sanchez's ability to lead fourth-quarter comebacks, comparing him to the late Steve McNair.
"He takes the brunt of the criticism, but sometimes it's not him," Ryan said of Sanchez. "Is he perfect? No, we're working on things, there's no question about it. But I'm confident. He works as hard as anybody I've ever been around."
Sanchez threw a career-high four touchdowns against the Bills, but he acknowledges he didn't play well. He sounded down, but he insisted, "Honestly, it sounds crazy, but things are looking up, things are looking good."
But if the Jets lose to the Redskins, Sanchez might want to pull a Bobby Bonilla when they return home the following week.