Last season he threw 20 interceptions and went through the growing pains of being a rookie quarterback in the NFL. This season Mark Sanchez is coming into his own as the team's signalcaller and is even challenging the Jets record books. In the past four games he's thrown for 1,206 yards, which is the fifth-best four-game stretch in franchise history. The only two Jets quarterbacks with better totals were Ken O'Brien and Joe Namath.
"Mark's playing great," head coach Rex Ryan said. "He's doing a tremendous job. It's just the preparation. I'm excited about where he is. He prepares like a pro. We said that's all he did in the offseason. This really is his offense. It's his team. It's great to see."
In each of the last four Jets victories, Sanchez has led the team on a game-winning drive in the fourth quarter or in overtime. And for his 22-for-38, 315-yard, three-TD comeback effort in the 30-27 victory over the Texans, he was named today the AFC Offensive Player of the Week.
Despite the heart-stopping nature of the recent victories, Sanchez is just glad that he's led the Jets to an 8-2 mark.
"I think that's the most important thing, is that we've won them," Sanchez said this week. "These are the same games during this stretch last year that we lost. We're proud of the way we're finishing games. Now it's a matter of cleaning up some of the mistakes midway and three-quarters through the game. Hopefully, we'll win some of these things without the last-minute heroics."
While the 6-yard touchdown pass to Santonio Holmes following the magnificent 42-yard sideline strike to Braylon Edwards will be the plays most remembered by fans from Sunday's game, there was another crucial play on the drive. On the play prior to Sanchez's bomb to Edwards, he found running back LaDainian Tomlinson on a smart checkdown pass that resulted in a 19-yard gain that put the Green & White in Houston territory.
Tomlinson spent nine seasons in San Diego with the Chargers before coming to the Jets this offseason, and during his tenure he saw the growth of MVP candidate Philip Rivers. LT, however, told newyorkjets.com's Eric Allen on last week's "Four Quarters" that Sanchez is further along in his development than Rivers was at the same stages in his careers.
"If people are going to be playing us like they've been playing us," Tomlinson said, "we have to be able to throw the ball for 300-plus yards just so we can get people to play us a little more balanced so we can be effective in doing both. Every week Mark has that confidence that he can do it week after week if we need him to. It just helps in the long run to know we can run it and we can throw it. Anything we need to do to win games, we can do it."
Sanchez has thrown for 2,306 yards, 15 touchdowns and seven interceptions this season. That gives him a passer rating of 82.8 through 11 weeks, a nearly 20-point increase from his 63.0 rating from the 2009 regular season. He's due to eclipse his passing-yards mark with 139 more yards and he's already surpassed the 12 touchdowns he threw last season.
Throughout the year, he's been noticeably focused on his preparation and dedication from Monday through Saturday, which has paid dividends on Sunday.
"It's about as real as it gets," Sanchez said. "The things we've done in practice, we've translated it to the game. It's a product of that repetition. I'm proud of the way we've finished these games. I'm proud of the way these guys have really made plays. It makes the quarterback's job pretty easy."
While it may appear to be easy again this week because the Jets host 2-8 Cincinnati on Thanksgiving night, the Jets realize the challenge ahead. On national television in a night game and coming off of a seven-game losing streak, the Bengals will be playing with nothing to lose and a chip on their shoulders. They have the 18th-ranked passing defense and gave up 316 yards and four touchdowns to the Buffalo Bills' Ryan Fitzpatrick last week, but Sanchez is still wary of the Bengals' ability.
"They have another chance here on national TV to play well," Sanchez said. "Those two wideouts sure do well on national TV. Their defense is active. They're fast. They are fast-flow guys. They do a great job of getting pressure on the quarterback and they've lost a few heartbreakers. They don't look like they're 2-8."
That's the type of attitude that impresses Sanchez's teammates and coaches. In fact, that's the brand of maturity and intensity that Ryan and general manager Mike Tannenbaum looked for when they drafted him with the fifth overall pick in April 2009.
"It doesn't get too big for him," Ryan said. "The stage here, he plays on this stage every week and he can handle it, where a lot of guys can't. A lot of guys can be great quarterbacks, but on this stage, not so fast. He can handle it. That was what was important going through the process of finding our quarterback, so that we made sure we got the right guy."
Most gross passing yards by a Jets QB in three consecutive games:
|Ken O'Brien||1985||10-12 (@mia,TB,NE)||1,071|
|Ken O'Brien||1986||8-10 (NO,@sea,@atl)||1,011|
|Ken O'Brien||1986||9-11 (@sea,@atl,IND)||990|
|Joe Namath||1967||2-4 (@den,MIA,OAK)||980|
|Ken O'Brien||1986||1-3 (@buf,NE,MIA)||977|
|Joe Namath||1967||1-3 (@buf,@den,MIA)||967|
|Ken O'Brien||1985||11-13 (TB,NE,@det)||959|
|**Mark Sanchez**||**2010**||**8-10 (@det,@cle,HOU)**||**950**|
Most gross passing yards by a Jets QB in four consecutive games:
|Ken O'Brien||1985||10-13 (@mia,TB,NE,@det)||1,352|
|Ken O'Brien||1985||11-14 (TB,NE,@det,@buf)||1,329|
|Joe Namath||1967||2-5 (@den,MIA,OAK,HOU)||1,275|
|Joe Namath||1967||7-10 (BOS,@kc,BUF,@bos)||1,242|
|**Mark Sanchez**||**2010**||**7-10 (GB,@det,@cle,HOU)**||**1,206**|