(Long Island, N.Y.) When you’re in a partial rebuilding mode – especially when two of those parts include a rookie head coach and starting quarterback – a record anywhere near the .500 mark would be considered a plus in the competitive world of the National Football League. To actually eclipse that and not having to clean out your locker after 16 games is practically unheard of.
But that is exactly what the case is for the New York Jets, who rode a roller coaster season into a 9-7 record and the fifth seed in the AFC. They will face the Bengals in Cincinnati on Saturday in one of the wild card games. Rex Ryan knows a thing or two about successful first year coaches and QBs, having experienced it last year as a member of the Baltimore Ravens coaching staff under John Harbaugh, who – along with signal caller Joe Flacco – led his team within one game of the Super Bowl.
“It is tough because there’s so much placed on the quarterback,” said Ryan. “Not only do you have to know your position, you have to know the left guard has this responsibility. You’ve got to know everybody’s responsibility, and it’s brand new to you, and, oh, by the way – you have to be able to read coverages.”
According to Sanchez, the feeling of making his first playoff start hasn’t sunk in yet, even though he was used to pressure games at USC. “I felt this similar feeling when you play in big Bowl games,” he said. “There will be a point maybe before the game, midway through the game, half time, where I (will say), ‘This is unbelievable.’”
Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer has taken notice of Sanchez’s making the successful transition from college to the NFL. “(It was) extremely tough but he did a great job with it,” he said of his fellow Trojan. “He’s a really good football player and if people don’t think he is yet, they’ll see [it] in the future. He’s going through those learning pains that everybody goes through.
“It’s tough when you first get thrown in there, especially in that market.”
In the Jets past two games, Sanchez has followed a more conservative approach with a ball-control style running offense, resulting in zero interceptions, something that he has had trouble with all season. “You have to (be resilient in order) to be a good quarterback in this league,” added Palmer. “Everybody’s thrown picks. Everybody has had multiple pick days, but it’s how you come back from that.”
Even though it may seem as if the team has ‘dumbed down’ the playbook to cut down on turnovers, Brian Schottenheimer does not see it that way. “No, I never get that sense,” the offensive coordinator said. “I trust Mark implicitly. We’ve gone through some growing pains. He’s made some decisions that he would like to have back, but in no way have we wavered in our confidence in him. I think he is still growing with the understanding of the system.”
Regardless of how they arrived there – perhaps you can credit their league-leading rushing attack and defense – many accolades must go to the quarterback and head coach.
Super Bowl or bust? Whatever happens, they are playing with house money.