(Long Island, N.Y.) The New York Jets had just wrapped up their upset 24-17 win at home over the Tennessee Titans and Mark Sanchez was the toast of the town. The fifth overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft had led his team to three consecutive wins to start the season, a record for a rookie quarterback.
The tabloids and sports talk radio stations were full of wonderful accolades for the USC product and he was being hailed as the next “Broadway Joe,” something that has been lacking around these parts for, oh…about four decades.
Then it all went up in flames.
Beginning with the 24-10 loss at New Orleans in Week 4, Sanchez has looked the part of the shaky rookie more times than he has the cool and collective general on the field. His decision making has been questioned and propensity to throw interceptions at the wrong time has reared its ugly head too often in the Jets 1-6 mark since their hot start.
Regardless of that, his head coach and teammates are firmly behind him. The league has been spoiled by the success of Ben Roethlesberger, Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco starting in their first year, but throughout history the ups and downs that Sanchez is experiencing has been the norm.
“We are going to continue to support him as our teammate and we’re going to get better around him,” said wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery. “It’s not about one guy getting better, every guy around him has to get better. We can make plays for him. That is what it is all about.”
Cotchery was the recipient of Sanchez’s 10th touchdown pass of the season, a 29-yard rainbow that was perfectly thrown in the 31-14 loss at New England. At the time, it cut the Patriots lead to 10 and put the Jets right back into the game, but a poorly thrown pass in the Jets next possession was picked off and resulted in the backbreaking touchdown to put the game out of reach.
It is plays like that which make Sanchez’s progress appear more like the opposite. “I think he can make all the throws,” said Rex Ryan, who is experiencing the same first year jitters as his quarterback. “We’ve just got to be really looking at how we can help him and if he can understand that sometimes there’s a time to take a chance and a time to do the right thing, which is [to] just get rid of the football.
“I think if he can do that, he’s going to give us a better opportunity to succeed moving forward,” continued Ryan. “That’s got to be my challenge to him. That it’s on nobody else but me to see that he can take care of the football better.”
Ryan explained that he is going to take a more assertive role in Sanchez’s development by being a mentor in terms of keeping the defense off the field. Sanchez has had trouble not only throwing bad passes when he should be trying to reach the back row in the stands but also taking hits and coughing up the ball in and out of the pocket.
“If that’s all I bring to him is how to protect the football and making sure he understands the situation in the game, then that’s what I’m going to make sure I do, whatever it is.”
Ryan has stated emphatically that he has no intentions of benching Sanchez and they will take their lumps together. Even some of the most successful quarterbacks have had rough starts their first year in the NFL. Troy Aikman and Peyton Manning had four wins combined in their rookie seasons and they were able to use those experiences to their advantage.
Who knows, those lights may illuminate Broadway one of these days after all.