On Monday night, we witnessed an event that felt like a complete impossibility in the NFL of 2018.
It took an unlikely confluence of events for it to happen. Quarterback Colt McCoy exited Washington's key division matchup against the Eagles after suffering a broken leg in the second quarter. McCoy was on the field because the team's original starter, Alex Smith, also suffered a broken leg just 15 days earlier. These were sad and unfortunate developments for both men, but it at least gave us an answer to the all-important question: What would it take to return Mark Sanchez to NFL relevance?
Sanchez signed with the 'Skins the day after Smith went down, and coach Jay Gruden acknowledged after Monday's 28-13 loss to the Eagles that his backup was only able to work off a small portion of Washington's dense playbook. Considering the situation for both player and team, you couldn't help but get a kick out of Sanchez's first live regular-season action in 701 days. First-and-10 from his own 10, Sanchez takes the snap, sticks the ball in the gut of his tailback, and watches as Adrian Peterson sprints 90 yards to the house. Sanchez laughed as he jogged off the field -- running an offense was probably a lot easier than he remembered.
Washington would manage to score on just a single field-goal drive the rest of the night, and most who follow the game now see the Redskins -- 6-6 after three straight losses -- as a non-factor in the NFC East race. The presence of Sanchez behind center is cited as a principle reason why, and this analysis is not unfair. In truth, Sanchez was never a particularly productive quarterback even in the best of times.
But at least he has his chance. It's an unlikely addendum chapter in what's been a winding and unusual NFL odyssey. Sanchez was a college star, first-round pick, playoff hero, whipping boy, laughingstock and traveling clipboard holder -- all in the space of about six years. At the height of his "Sanchize" days in New York, Jets coach Rex Ryan got a tattoo on his arm; an image of his wife clad in a Sanchez No. 6 jersey. Wearing only a Sanchez No. 6 jersey. It was deeply weird and strangely sweet.
"I refer to him as 'my baby,' " Ryan wrote of Sanchez in his way-too-soon 2011 autobiography. "I know that may not be the masculine way to put it, but it's the truth, he is absolutely my baby. He wasn't just my first draft pick as an NFL head coach; he was the first of many important decisions I was going to make for this franchise. He's my guy, and I'm damn proud of it! I still have his draft card at home, tucked away in a drawer. I plan to get it framed one day."
Neither Sanchez nor Ryan lasted with the Jets, and that team's strategic philosophy (Ground and Pound, baby!) feels about 200,000 miles in the NFL rearview. There were good times in New York, but nobody really remembers that. Instead, it's all about -- what else? -- the Butt Fumble, that infamous broken play on Thanksgiving night against the Patriots in 2012. It served as a line of demarcation for the Jets, who went from fringe contender with playoff bonafides to league laughingstock faster than you can say, well, Butt Fumble.
Sanchez won't forget about the night his facemask slammed into the ass of guard Brandon Moore because we won't let him. You can argue that no NFL player is more closely tied to a single play than Mark Sanchez is tied to the Butt Fumble. Think about that! Bring his name up in any bar in America. Read a reply to any tweet that bears his name. Or, if you'd like, sit in for a Washington Redskins press conference 2,205 days after the fact.
If I were Sanchez, and some punk reporter was asking about the lowest moment in my career six years after the fact, I'd climb atop the podium and deliver a Randy Savage elbow smash. But that's me. Sanchez is SoCal cool and always has been. He could have made excuses after the Butt Fumble, but he didn't. He could have went public with his anger when the ridiculous Tim Tebow circus came to Florham Park in 2012, but he didn't. He could have buried Ryan when he was placed behind an offensive line of camp bodies late in a 2013 preseason game, a foolish coach's decision that led to a season-ending shoulder injury and the unofficial end of his Jets career ... but he didn't.
Sanchez probably won't ever fully escape the replays, or lazy reporters, or the occasional bitter ex-teammate starved for attention. But come Sunday, he'll be on an NFL field, in the middle of a division race, getting a shot -- maybe his last shot -- to alter the narrative of his NFL career. This Redskins season might not end at the Super Bowl, but at least Sanchez gets a chance to show his career didn't end on that doomed night at the Meadowlands.
Good for him.