Rumors swirled about Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez's throwing shoulder last week, and many wondered how he would fare against the Chicago Bears' defense at Soldier Field. Nine throws into the Jets 38-34 shootout loss in Week 16, those questions were answered as Sanchez had completed all of his passes for over 100 yards.
This week, with the difference between finishing with 11 or 10 wins for the season and possibly finishing with the fifth or the sixth AFC playoff seed at stake, head coach Rex Ryan is unsure how much action Sanchez will see against the Buffalo Bills.
"I'll say this about Mark," Ryan said. "He's much better right now than he was last week at this point. He kind of does have that hot hand. But more anything, I want to make sure he's ready to go. I haven't decided if he's going to play 'X' amount of plays or if he's going to play at all. I'm leaning toward maybe he'll play some, so we'll see."
The Southern Cal product finished the Bears game 24-for-37 for 269 yards and over the past two games has completed 65 percent of his passes. He found his favorite target, Dustin Keller, seven times for 79 yards, wide receiver Braylon Edwards six times for 78 yards and wide receiver Santonio Holmes four times for 69 yards and his one touchdown pass.
"His throws were on there, they were on point and he did a great job," Edwards said. "He put us in positions to have easy third-down conversions and have a chance to win the ballgame."
The second-year quarterback, who is the second youngest Jet to throw for 3,000 yards in a season, has thrown for 3,291 yards this year to go along with 17 touchdowns, 13 interceptions and a 75.3 passer rating. While the offense had struggled after the bye week, the past two weeks the efficiency has been there. In the first seven games after the bye week the Jets had only 10 drives of 10 plays or more, but have had five such drives in the last two weeks.
"I think all of us on offense have fallen into a good rhythm here," Sanchez said. "It's important to watch the same amount of film, prepare like we're playing. That's all we know until he says anything different. So it's important to keep up with our routine."
Ryan has told every player on the roster to be ready to play in the season finale against the Bills. Although the 10-5 Jets lost last week, the Jaguars also lost, meaning that in the second year of the Ryan/Sanchez era, the Green & White clinched their second consecutive playoff berth.
"It's a tremendous honor and not the easiest task," Sanchez said. "We're proud that we made it this far. We would have liked to win a couple more games in the regular season and position ourselves a little better in the playoffs but you take what you can get. We're in the playoffs just like last year and we have to get ready to play on the road."
The head coach and quarterback duo is one of the most important aspects of an NFL organization, and the Ryan/Sanchez partnership will be tested this week as Ryan attempts to determine just how long to play his franchise quarterback before he rests him in and inserts backups Mark Brunell and Kellen Clemens into the game.
"He has a good feel for things," Sanchez said of Ryan. "He knows what he wants out of us and he also wants to be smart with the injuries and at the same time keep us in our same rhythm, and my routine has been good these past few weeks. I've felt good when gameday came and I want to feel the same way this Sunday and not miss a beat. So until he says anything, I'm preparing to play, I'm ready to go."
And if Sanchez does come out in midgame, he said, "then I'll be Brunell's and Kellen's biggest cheerleader."