FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- The reins now have slack.
In his first two years, Sanchez was the proverbial "game manager," which was fine because the Jets had a defense that could limit opponents' point production and a running game to put Sanchez in favorable down-and-distance situations.
This season, Year 3, it's time for Sanchez to show himself.
"He's a charismatic guy and a fiery guy, and I think his play last year, all the wins that we had in the last drive and then the fourth quarter of games; it's just that everybody has so much confidence in Mark right now," coach Rex Ryan said. "He just has to be part of the solution. He doesn't have to be the solution all himself.
"Let's face it: he's proved that the bigger the game, the better he plays. We've just got to get him to realize every one of these games is important. I think he knows that, without question, but that's what I expect from him."
That's what a lot of people expect from him, especially a Jets team that needs to sometimes control games through the air like most good teams that have enough balance to keep things honest, but also enough firepower to win a shootout.
"It's my job to elevate my game," Sanchez said, "and get all of us better."
New York averaged 32.8 pass attempts last season -- pretty middle of the pack -- which shows there was solid balance with the running game. It averaged just 6.5 yards per completion. Its 20 touchdown passes were among the worst involving playoff teams.
Much of the Jets' scoring came on their 30 field goals, which was among the top-five highest totals in field goals made in the NFL. The Eagles were the only other playoff team that made 30 or more field goals. Touchdowns are of greater value and passing more will diversify the options to put points on the board and make the offense less predictable.
Opponents stacked the line of scrimmage and dared Sanchez and the Jets to win by throwing the ball. This season, the plan is to make them think twice.
"Maybe that will loosen up some of the coverage back there," Ryan said. "(Sanchez) knows our offense. He knows defenses now."
A good example of what could be expected from Sanchez is that set by Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan. In his first two seasons, the Falcons were a run-heavy team with Michael Turner carrying the load. Ryan wasn't put in many risky situations when it came to the passing game, and he was clutch at the end of games.
In his second season, Ryan threw 451 passes (14 games), averaging 32.2, a shade less than Sanchez averaged per game last season. Last season, Ryan's third, he passed 571 times (35.7 per game). His touchdowns rose from 22 to 28. Ryan was entrusted more with input and the direction of the offense, much like Sanchez will be this season.
The challenge for Sanchez is that two of his top four receivers will be new. Tight end Dustin Keller and No. 1 wideout Santonio Holmes return. Braylon Edwards, Jerricho Cotchery and Brad Smith are gone, replaced by Plaxico Burress and veteran Derrick Mason, who announced he will sign with the team. Regardless, the learning curve in a short period will be steep, and the goal of throwing the ball more could be somewhat delayed.
Then again, if Sanchez, a newly designated captain, has emerged as the leader his teammates and coaches said, then he'll find a way.
"It's a great opportunity for me to bring along younger guys," Sanchez said, "to make guys better, to help them improve and get the best out of our players."