FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) — Mark Sanchez has no concerns about his sore shoulder. Neither does coach Rex Ryan.
Even if the New York Jets need their quarterback to air it out against the Indianapolis Colts.
“That shoulder is not an excuse for our football team,” Ryan said Tuesday. “Nothing is.”
Sanchez was limited in practice, as he has been for much of the last few weeks, but said he got in almost all of his throws and liked how the shoulder responded.
“I’m feeling good,” Sanchez said, “and ready to go Saturday.”
That’s when the Jets (11-5) return to Indianapolis and face the Colts (10-6), the team that knocked them out of the playoffs in the AFC championship game a year ago.
“They beat us when it really counted and that’s hard,” Sanchez said. “That’s a tough feeling, going home after a playoff game.”
How Sanchez plays this year — and how his shoulder feels — will play a big role in determining whether it’s a happy trip home this time around.
“I’ll be ready to play,” Sanchez said.
Ryan has no doubts.
“He can zip it,” the coach said. “There’s no question. I don’t think it’s a problem at all. I never thought the injury was major. I think he’s doing just fine. When he’s in the game, he can throw it like he always does.”
The second-year quarterback was injured in the Jets’ 22-17 win at Pittsburgh on Dec. 19, but played well through it — as he did the following week at Chicago. He started the regular-season finale against Buffalo on Sunday, but did not throw a pass in his one series. Ryan wanted to keep Sanchez in the rhythm he had been in leading up to the game without having him do much in the game.
Sanchez handed off nine times — one was called back for a penalty — before giving way to Mark Brunell, who helped lead the Jets to a 38-7 rout of the Bills.
“I’m just trying to bounce back after getting pulled last week for Brunell,” a smiling Sanchez said. “Coach has been talking about it for a while, and then he benched me last week. So, I’m a little upset.”
All kidding aside, Sanchez has actually been more efficient since taking an awkward fall onto his shoulder vs. the Steelers.
“He’s had this shoulder for the past two or three weeks and he’s done just fine,” Ryan said. “I think our offense has played well, and we kind of joked a little bit that maybe we should have done this to him earlier.”
Sanchez’s numbers don’t jump off the page the way maybe Peyton Manning’s do, but he was very efficient against both the Steelers and Bears. He completed nearly 65 percent of his passes in each game, and his quarterback rating was above 80. He also took care of the football, throwing only a late interception in a comeback bid against the Bears.
“Your percentages obviously go up the shorter you throw the ball,” Sanchez said. “We’ve had timely shots, good throws and even better catches down the field when we really needed them. It’s been a matter of me getting through my reads the way I should: fast and efficient.”
That should be the game plan against the Colts, too. Of course, there will also be a heavy dose of the running game with LaDainian Tomlinson and Shonn Greene mixed in.
“We try to stay balanced,” Sanchez said. “That’s been the key all year. When we’re balanced, we play our best.”
Sanchez also can draw off the experience of knowing he played well against the Colts in the AFC championship game, helping the Jets get within 30 minutes of a trip to the Super Bowl.
“It definitely helps,” Sanchez said. “I don’t know how to describe it. Once you’ve played a playoff game, you know what it’s like. Just like starting your first game, you kind of get the jitters out.”
He finished 17 of 30 for 257 yards and two touchdowns and an interception in that game, a 30-17 loss.
“I was going to put it more in the hands of the running game (last year) with three yards and a cloud of dust, punt and we’ll play defense,” Ryan said. “I think we can do more than that offensively now.”
That’s partially because Sanchez has already felt the pressure of the postseason, as well as the fact the Jets added playoff veterans Tomlinson and wide receiver Santonio Holmes to the offense.
“We can be more explosive on offense,” Ryan said. “I think people have to defend us differently than they did last year.”
And, if Sanchez can head into Indianapolis and find a way to beat Manning and the Colts, he would improve to 3-1 in the postseason in a young NFL career.
“These games, I don’t know what it is,” Sanchez said. “It’s just that everybody has that understanding, ‘It’s win or go home,’ and I don’t want to watch any games the next week. I want to be playing in them.”
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.