On his 23rd birthday, Mark Sanchez turned the heat up on himself even as the weather cooled on this November Wednesday in Florham Park, N.J.
Sanchez, a native of Mission Viejo, Calif., left the sleeves in his locker before heading to the practice field. That in itself was a clear departure from what you would have expected from the rookie from SoCal.
"I didn't need a bunch of layers today — I probably would have the first half of the season. But it's something you have to start to embrace and understand that we need to use it to our advantage especially when we get teams from Florida or warm weather teams coming in," he said. "You have to start to use that as an advantage and really get use to that."
"He's one of the only guys without any sleeves on. He realizes this is his weather," said head coach Rex Ryan. "It's not that Southern California. It's got to be his weather. I want to make note to Jacksonville that it's awfully cold here, just make sure they're all bundled up, ready to go."
A 53.3 percent passer through half of the season, Sanchez ranks just 30th in that category and he said that is not acceptable.
"I feel like I'm a much more accurate passer than whatever it is, 53 or 52. I feel like I'm much better than 50 percent," he said. "Looking back at the tape, I think there are a lot of easy throws that would have got me up closer to 60 or closer to 70 hopefully soon."
Sanchez's struggles in Week 4 and Week 6 losses to the Saints and the Bills have been well-documented, but the rookie was interception-free the past two contests and the Green & White have compiled a 3-1 mark in games he hasn't thrown an INT.
"Hopefully that was just a little bump in the road and we're able to move on from it," Ryan said. "He's doing a great job. He realizes you've got to take care of the football in this league. That old term 'managing the game,' obviously he's done a super job of that the last couple of weeks. And really up until almost the whole season, with the exception of New Orleans and Buffalo, I thought he's done an outstanding job that way."
During the bye week, Sanchez went back to Southern California and threw a little bit at Mission Viejo High School. He joked about running the scout team and going 8-for-8 at one point as his alma mater prepared for a game with San Clemente.
But Sanchez takes his craft very seriously. That's why he painstakingly reviewed his first half over his break — the good and the bad. He is young, but he expects results in the second half.
"Don't we wish we can all go back to being 23? Golly, he's a young dude. What were we thinking about drafting him that high?" Ryan said. "It's funny. He's got such a huge responsibility, you forget that this guy is 23 years old. It's pretty amazing."
After starting just 16 games in college, Sanchez will make his ninth pro start Sunday against the Jaguars. He said his arm feels good and he did enter the bye on a warm streak, posting a 107.0 passer rating against the Raiders and a 100.3 vs. the Dolphins. And with the NFL's top-ranked rushing offense and the league's No. 2-ranked defense, Sanchez thinks this team can be playoff-bound if he plays better.
"There is a lot of room for improvement," he said. "We're 4-4 and if I make those improvements, who knows where this team can be? I think we have plenty of talent and if I can clean up a lot of little mistakes, we'll be on the right track."