Unlike the Jets’ modern passing reps, Sanchez knew how to take advantage of a situation
Many a Christmas story has centered upon redemption, with Ebenezer Scrooge, Old Man Marley, and The Grinch among the amended protagonists.
Before someone adapts Scrooge’s “Christmas Carol” for the umpteenth time (Ryan Reynolds appears to be the latest to don the mantle), it’s time to consider adding Mark Sanchez to that realm, especially in New York Jets lore.
Granted, Sanchez’s holiday redemption would perhaps be better suited for Thanksgiving rather than Christmas for … obvious reasons. But the Yuletide still holds dangerous green memories for Sanchez, whose stranglehold on the Jets’ franchise quarterback job started to loosen during a MetLife Stadium civil war hours before Santa Claus started making his rounds. Sanchez, of course, wasn’t supposed to stop Victor Cruz’s 99-yard dash to glory, but there’s never a good time for three fourth-quarter turnovers, much less a battle between roommates for playoff positioning.
Sanchez’s on-field legacy is perhaps defined by being in the wrong place at the wrong time: he’s far from the most egregious quarterback selection in the 2009 draft (Julian Edelman, the second-most renowned name behind top choice Matthew Stafford, obviously made his professional living catching balls rather than throwing them) and there have been far more egregious bloopers since the most egregious Thanksgiving folly since Leon Lett’s dash through the snow.
For a brief moment in time, however, Sanchez was the hero the Jets needed … if not the one everyone wanted. That has never been made more apparent than this ongoing season.
You thought you knew the story of Sanchez’s early years: he was the quarterback along for the ride in the Jets’ most recent postseason excursions, his first two NFL seasons ending in the AFC title game thanks only to the efforts of shutdown defenders like Darrelle Revis, Shaun Ellis, David Harris, Bart Scott, and more. Even as Sanchez began his NFL service at a time when the quarterback’s value began to skyrocket, his offensive teammates like Thomas Jones, Shonn Greene, Braylon Edwards, and others stole the spotlight from him.
This was an incredible comeback the #Jets pulled off in 2010 against the Texans. In 2009 and 2010, Mark Sanchez was so clutch. Another example here. 45-second drive. 5 plays. 72 yards. Game-winning TD pic.twitter.com/04eCyGznr1
— Michael Natale (@mikereportblog) March 21, 2020
The conventional conversation around Sanchez’s involvement in the Jets’ last successful years was that he was a mere passenger on a defensive-led journey, and plenty promoted the idea that any warm body could’ve been under center for the Jets and they still would’ve reached the NFL’s final four. This season, however, has proven that, no matter how much potential is packed into a defense or how much they’ve accomplished, the man under center still matters.
Now, it’s certainly far too early to compare the Revis-led group to the one headlined by Saucer Gardner. Ellis’ lauded NFL trek was nearly complete while Quinnen Williams’ is only starting. But though their accomplishments pale in comparison to that last postseason group … at least for the time being … there’s no doubt that it proved its value and how powerful it can be by holding its own in an NFL landscape that holds an unspoken but fairly evident preference toward the offensive side of the ball.
Of course, as the Jets’ modern quarterback situation has demonstrated, a stellar defense, especially in today’s game, can only do so much without the right brand of complimentary football. Zach Wilson is probably not the solution under center no matter how desperately the Jets try to squeeze something of their second-overall pick investment. Joe Flacco appears to be counting down the days not toward Christmas but rather toward the inevitable one-day retirement contract the Baltimore Ravens are due to offer him. Mike White has struggled to stay healthy and it’s possible Chris Streveler could partake in the increasingly meaningless final games of the season.
In the chaos of it all, Sanchez is at least partially vindicated.
Acknowledging Sanchez’s proper, perhaps underappreciated, role in Jets history doesn’t have to delve into the omnipotent question of “what if.” The Jets had gone as far as they could with him under center and there’s no use branching into alternate universes a decade after his last metropolitan snaps. But as the Jets prepare to officially waste a sterling defensive effort and embark upon yet another hunt for Joe Namath’s long-sought successor, it’s worth giving Sanchez his belated due.
The time @Mark_Sanchez and the @nyjets took down the Patriots (2010 Divisional: Jan. 16, 2011)pic.twitter.com/yiPSDhFZN1
— NFL Legacy (@NFLLegacy) July 23, 2019
The old axiom dictates that one must “lead, follow, or get out of the way.” In the NFL, the latter-most option is often not even an option, more mandated by either injury or a player’s supervisor.
Sanchez proved himself capable of performing the constructive alternatives, be it in his accepted role as a game manager or as a catalyst toward bigger, brighter offensive affairs if need be. During his relative early heyday (2009-10), Sanchez was credited with seven game-winning drives (including two in the postseason). His more traditional box scores pale in comparison to the ones that resemble pinball machines or Arena Football League ledgers, but Sanchez threw at least one touchdown pass in all but one of his six postseason showings with the Jets … three alone in the historic AFC Divisional victory in New England in the 2010-11 tournament.
Yes, Sanchez in his de facto prime was, at best, a game manager. But that concept requires … well, managing.
Obviously, when one spends a prime pick on a supposed quarterback solution, they’re going to want a little something more than a game manager. Winning isn’t even enough to ensure a quarterback’s hold on any one job: just ask Alex Smith, who committed the egregious modern NFL sin of winning in a boring fashion. All that and more is precisely why Sanchez isn’t going to get a video tribute on East Rutherford’s big LED screens the next time Fox situates him in MetLife Stadium’s booth.
But as Jets fans are paid not-so-redemptive visits from the football ghosts of past, present, and future, they’re forced to cling to whatever goodwill they can, especially when it comes to building a model toward the future. Whether they like it or not, that includes Sanchez’s ability to make the most out of what a downright legendary defense handed him.
Is it worth green supporters expanding their hearts three sizes? Probably not. It is, however, worth acknowledging Sanchez’s Marley-style salting of the gridiron sidewalks that paved the way to the Jets’ most recent resemblance of that championship feeling.
Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags