New York Jets  

 

Mark Sanchez's New York Jets tenure was anything but boring

The news broke Friday night after 6 p.m. ET -- a time when press releases are distributed to get the least amount of attention possible.

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The New York Jets released Mark Sanchez.

It was hardly surprising. But it was most certainly buzzworthy.

Mark Sanchez -- he of the four road playoff wins, he of the infamous butt fumble, he of the sports page and Page Six -- was no longer a member of Gang Green.

Love him or loathe him, praise him or bash him, Sanchez's Jets tenure was anything but boring.

I know. I lived it.

My wife has joked that our life has been dominated by Mark Sanchez. We live in New York. And for every snap Sanchez took in his Jets career, I was on SNY's "Jets Post Game Live." I co-host a daily sports talk show on SNY and host a daily sports radio show on SiriusXM. On CBS Sports Network, I host a quarterback show and an NFL pregame show. And I write for NFL.com.

As you can see, my wife isn't subject to hyperbole. Mark Sanchez's every move legitimately dominated my every move. And he certainly kept it fresh.

Sanchez ate a hot dog on the sideline during a blowout of the Oakland Raiders. He tried to disarm the media during one postgame press conference by reading a prepared statement. Oftentimes after a game, he'd fail to follow the unwritten QB rule (never point the finger at others -- point the thumb at yourself). A viral clip surfaced of him dancing with his pants down, which sparked a debate over the butt video versus the butt fumble. There was the time his head coach was irked when Sanchez couldn't slide. Shortly thereafter, Yankees manager Joe Girardi was there to give him sliding pointers.

There was Tebowmania. There was Santonio Holmes quitting on Sanchez and the team in the final game of the 2011 campaign. There were gigantic playoff throws against New England, Indianapolis, San Diego and Cincinnati. Mark Sanchez quarterbacked a team that beat Peyton Manning and Tom Brady -- in the same postseason.

Did I mention Tebow?

During his time in the glaring spotlight of NYC, Sanchez had a lot of Alex Rodriguez in him. He tried to do what he thought was right, dressing a certain way after games, acting a certain way with beat reporters. He tried so hard to give the public and the press what they wanted, but he couldn't remotely deliver it in a genuine way.

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When the Jets made back-to-back AFC Championship Game appearances in Sanchez's first two years in the league, the young quarterback owned the town. Yes, Rex Ryan's braggadocious Jets were carried by a great defense and a "ground and pound" offense, but Sanchez stepped up in the playoffs and made clutch plays.

Still, there is one thing Sanchez never was: a great player.

While you most certainly cannot take away Sanchez's postseason road wins, his struggles, poor reads and drama (even while the team was winning) cannot be forgotten.

Sanchez tossed more picks (20) than touchdowns (12) in his rookie year and was the weak link on the team. But notching two playoff wins in hostile territory covered up the warts. In 2010, Sanchez threw 17 touchdown passes against 13 picks. And, of course, he won two more playoff games on the road. Despite posting a completion percentage below 55 in back-to-back years, he was built up as the "Sanchize." He was the man. He had the Jets knocking on the Super Bowl's door.

Sanchez was the new "Broadway Joe." Except he wasn't.

A surrounding offensive cast of great veteran leaders like Jerricho Cotchery, Damien Woody and Tony Richardson significantly benefited the quarterback in his nascent years. In a lot of ways, the vets carried Sanchez and sugarcoated issues with his play and leadership. Sanchez didn't have to lead -- he could be young and immature. Yes, he was the quarterback, but he wasn't the team's central figure. In some ways, this stunted his growth. When the aforementioned leaders departed and the Jets simultaneously put more on the quarterback's plate as a passer, Sanchez went south.

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Mark Sanchez through the years

Take a look at the best photos of Mark Sanchez.

Sanchez was clearly a central figure in the New York limelight, though. The city ate him up. Eventually, it would spit him out.

The Jets lost their way in 2011. Most of the offense's strong leaders were gone. The ground-and-pound approach became more of a myth and sound bite than truly a way of life. The Jets heaped more responsibility on Sanchez, and while he put up his career highs in touchdowns (26) and yards (3,474), the offense ranked 25th. The Jets collapsed, losing their final three games and missing the playoffs. Former offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer inexplicably had Sanchez attempt 59 passes against the New York Giants on Christmas Eve. The Jets lost. The crosstown rivals, meanwhile, never lost again, and in fact went on to win the Super Bowl. Schottenheimer and Sanchez ruined Christmas for Jets fans. It was a clear illustration of why you couldn't ask Sanchez to be the focal point of an offense. He was just never that good.

The following year was a disaster. The Jets traded for Tim Tebow for all the right reasons, but Sanchez imploded under enhanced pressure. The next coordinator up, Tony Sparano, couldn't coach the quarterbacks. The receiving corps was paper thin. Rex couldn't handle the depth chart.

Sanchez butt-fumbled the season away. That snapshot from Thanksgiving night in the lopsided comedy show against New England told the entire story: Sanchez and the Jets were literally the butt of every joke.

What doesn't get discussed enough is how Sanchez still had a chance to flip the script after the butt fumble. He wasted that chance with horrible play. Ten days later, Sanchez faced off against Arizona Cardinals quarterback Ryan Lindley in a game that sent offensive football back to the stone ages. Sanchez totaled 97 yards passing, finishing with three interceptions and zero touchdowns. It was the worst game I've ever seen. Fortunately, Greg McElroy relieved Sanchez late and guided Gang Green to its only score in the 7-6 win.


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A couple weeks later, when the Jets still had a chance to save the season in Tennessee on "Monday Night Football," Sanchez set a new low. On a night when Titans QB Jake Locker was begging the Jets to win, Sanchez threw four gruesome picks. The game ended, for all intents and purposes, when Sanchez couldn't handle a low snap and the Titans recovered with 43 seconds remaining. ESPN's Mike Tirico punctuated that final turnover with a perfect, incredulous call to mark New York's official elimination from the playoffs: "That's the way this game should end, that's the way the Jets' season should end: ugly, and a loss." On our SNY postgame show, former Jet Ray Lucas was so disgusted he just started shouting out names of people who should be fired.

Ah, memories.

Sanchez didn't play a snap in this past regular season after suffering an injury in the fourth quarter of a preseason bout against the Giants. Playing behind a backup offensive line, Sanchez was blasted by a group of G-Men and his shoulder took the brunt of the damage. It was the unofficial end to an unimaginable ride.

Now he's free.

The Philadelphia Eagles reportedly are taking a hard look at Sanchez. Jeff Fisher says the St. Louis Rams have some interest. (Schottenheimer, who is now with the Rams, and Sanchez could reunite to ruin Christmas in STL!) Maybe the Cleveland Browns will give it some thought. And maybe some other teams, too.

Here's what I cannot get past: Sanchez was never great. I once thought strongly that he had the clutch gene. I was wrong. Look at the numbers, watch the games, study crunch time -- nothing checks out.

I polled three of Sanchez's former teammates and three current NFL executives about the quarterback's future. One of his former teammates was adamant that Sanchez would have success or be a starter again -- especially if he goes to Philly -- but the other two had serious doubts about his talent and leadership. One stressed that he hoped Sanchez would develop a chip on his shoulder and prove the doubters wrong.

Meanwhile, on the executive side, one hoped he would go to the Eagles to learn from Chip Kelly. One wondered if he was capable of learning. And one exec summed up his feelings by saying, "When you look at your QB room, you want reliable vet eyes to help. Is that Sanchez?"

Good question.

Yes, there were circumstances around Sanchez that contributed to his downward spiral. But the fact is, Mark Sanchez continually wilted under pressure as his career progressed with the Jets. It's hard not to look at this quarterback with skepticism after five years of insanity.

My life will be quieter now. I'm going to miss it.

Follow Adam Schein on Twitter @AdamSchein.

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