FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) — The doubts and criticisms are piling up, and Mark Sanchez knows it.
The struggling New York Jets quarterback is trying not to let it all affect his confidence.
“That’s the way it is,” Sanchez said Wednesday. “You’re a hero when you win, and you’re the goat when you lose.”
It’s been that kind of season for Sanchez, who drew comparisons to Joe Namath earlier this year when he went through the first five games without throwing an interception and led the Jets to a 9-2 start.
That talk has pretty much stopped, especially after his last few outings. Sanchez was nearly benched in his last game, a dismal performance in New York’s 10-6 loss to Miami last Sunday.
“You have to be mentally tough,” Sanchez said. “It’s a good challenge for me early in my career where people might doubt, even in the building.”
Is he sensing his coaches, teammates and others are not believing in him right now?
“I don’t know, it could happen,” he said. “It’s a tough business. You’ve got to be thick-skinned. I just need to be ready to play.”
That starts with a tough matchup at Pittsburgh on Sunday, when the Jets (9-4) take on the Steelers (10-3) and try to end a two-game losing streak.
“These are the kind of situations you want to play for,” Sanchez said. “You don’t want to be on a losing team and play another losing team. That’s not what you want. This really tests your mettle and this is a good opportunity for us.”
Sanchez has thrown five interceptions and only one touchdown in his last three games, and coach Rex Ryan considered yanking him in the third quarter against the Dolphins.
“It’s something that can’t rattle you as a starter,” Sanchez said. “I’m the guy and the offensive guys rally around me. That’s always going to be Rex’s decision. It’s his prerogative. He says who the quarterback is. As long as it’s me, I’m playing my heart out for the team and I think the guys know that.”
His teammates have said Sanchez isn’t the only reason the Jets’ offense has failed to score a touchdown in nearly 2½ games. Ryan also issued a vote of confidence Monday, saying “he’s our quarterback, he’s my quarterback.”
But, that doesn’t mean Ryan wouldn’t consider actually sending Sanchez to the bench.
“I’ll always do what’s in the best interests of the football team,” Ryan said. “Do I think that’s a real possibility? I think Mark Sanchez is our quarterback. If he really has struggled for whatever reason, would I make a move? Yes, if I thought it was the best thing for our team.”
The Jets have no quarterback controversy, especially since they have few options. Forty-year-old Mark Brunell is the backup, but acts more like a player-coach. Kellen Clemens is the No. 3 quarterback, a former starter who has played in four less games than Sanchez.
“I go into the game with a positive attitude and I’m not thinking of getting pulled at any time,” Sanchez said. “I’m ready to play and if Rex makes a decision like that, we’ll all live with it.”
Sanchez’s 74.2 quarterback rating is the worst in the AFC, and ranks above only Brett Favre’s 69.6 and Derek Anderson’s 65.9 among players who have at least 250 attempts.
Both Ryan and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer have talked about Sanchez needing to improve his fundamentals, which have slipped since the middle of the season when he was playing well. Sanchez sees it, too.
“You watch the film and say, ‘Come on. You’ve got to have two hands on the ball. That’s too easy,’” Sanchez said. “It’s one thing to go through a tough read or get fooled by a defense, but something that you can control, you want to get that right. As frustrating as it is, it just needs to be fixed. That’s the focus and that’ll be the emphasis this week.”
It has to be, considering the Steelers’ defense is ranked fourth overall, including No. 1 against the run, so the Jets will need Sanchez to be able to throw at times. Protecting him will also be key for the offensive line, which will face a tough pass rush while being without starting right tackle Damien Woody, who’s out with a knee injury.
“Now is the time to really stick to the game plan and really just be smart with the way you go about moving in the pocket, hanging on to the ball, your footwork and all that,” Sanchez said. “I guess things can get away from you when you’re trying to win games down the stretch and doing stuff at the end of games to win, but it’s important to stay focused even in those tough times.”
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.