NEW YORK (WFAN/AP) — The booing began as soon as Mark Sanchez jogged onto the field at MetLife Stadium.
He hadn’t even thrown a pass or taken a snap. The game hadn’t even started. It’s been that kind of season for the Jets’ maligned quarterback.
“There’s nothing to do about that, except play better,” Sanchez said Wednesday. “That’s kind of where I stand with that.”
Safety Jim Leonhard heard the pre-game boos and said he was “disappointed” and “frustrated” by them.
“As players,” Leonhard told WFAN’s Benigno & Roberts on Tuesday, “you kind of turn to each other and say, ‘You know what? I guess we’re in this one today by ourselves. We can’t rely on the crowd to give us that energy because it’s already started off on a bad note.’”
Cornerback Darrelle Revis agreed, saying that the boos were “unfair.”
“This is not tennis, this is not a one-man sport,” Revis said. “This is not golf. This is a team sport. Everybody has to play their part. Playing football, you need chemistry. You need chemistry, you need unity to win games, you need everyone on the same page. There’s a lot of pieces to this puzzle that need to be together.”
“It doesn’t make sense,” said tight end Dustin Keller. “It’s completely unfair. Obviously, we appreciate our fans cheering for us, but the ones that booed him, it’s absolutely not fair.”
The jeers were louder in the second quarter, when Sanchez threw a costly interception in the second quarter of the Jets’ 28-24 victory over the Buffalo Bills on Sunday. It led to a go-ahead touchdown by the Bills and marked the fifth straight game Sanchez has been picked off at least once.
“We have to play better,” Sanchez said, his voice hoarse from the cold weather and yelling during practice. “It’s not a winning formula.”
Not at all. But what he did in the fourth quarter of the game Sunday certainly is. Sanchez was terrific on the winning drive in which he marched the Jets down the field for the go-ahead touchdown with just over a minute left. It was his ninth career fourth-quarter comeback or overtime victory, including the playoffs.
And those fans booing him earlier in the game? Yep, nothing but cheers as they went home happy – and the Jets credited the fans with helping them win.
“Sometimes it’s tough being a quarterback and all that,” coach Rex Ryan said, adding that he wasn’t aware of the boos until he read about them. “I don’t like it, but the fans have a right to boo and cheer. What we’re trying to do is work hard to give our fans a reason to cheer and sustain it.”
Sanchez knows what the reaction in the stands will be when he makes mistakes, and he understands all that.
“This is the market we’re in,” he said. “These fans expect a lot. They expect us to win, just like we do, and we put so much pressure on ourselves that you can’t let that stuff get to you. You’ve got to keep fighting and keep playing for the guys in this locker room.”
Revis said he has heard boos in previous seasons for Chad Pennington and Brett Favre, and believes, as Sanchez does, that it all comes with the territory. He also thinks Sanchez has been handling things the way a team captain should.
“I know Mark is a strong dude, man,” Revis said. “He’s our quarterback. … You can’t forget what he has done. At a very young age, he took us to two AFC championship games.”
The game against the Bills was a microcosm of Sanchez’s maddeningly inconsistent season. He completed less than 50 percent of his throws on 17 of 35 passing for 180 yards. But he also threw a career-high four touchdown passes, including the winning score to Santonio Holmes with 1:01 left.
Sanchez was not in a celebratory mood after the game, his usual smile missing during the postgame interviews. He was also caught appearing angry on the sideline immediately after the go-ahead score.
“I was actually pretty excited,” Sanchez said. “I was just hiding it because I know we’re better than that and I didn’t want to get too excited before the game was over.”
But even Wednesday, Sanchez was all business in front of his locker. He says it’s just a matter of being focused on the task at hand. The Jets (6-5) have five games left, and many players have said they need to win them all to make the playoffs.
Still, it leads some to wonder if Sanchez just isn’t having the kind of fun he had in his first two seasons.
“Honestly, it sounds crazy, but things are looking good,” he said. “I’m just feeling more and more comfortable. It’s not showing quite yet, but I know it will. We’re right there.”
Lost in the shuffle, Sanchez has already set a career high with 18 touchdown passes and he’s on pace to set marks in several other statistical categories. Yet, he is dogged by criticisms that he has regressed. It hasn’t been all him, though, not with missed blocking assignments and wrong routes run at inopportune moments.
Ryan compared Sanchez’s season to the one Steve McNair had for Baltimore in 2006 while leading the Ravens to the playoffs. McNair had five games in which he threw two or more interceptions, but also led a handful of late winning drives.
“Every teammate, every coach wanted the ball in his hand at the end of the game, and you felt confident,” Ryan said. “I’m sure that’s exactly the way the team feels about (Sanchez). … He had very similar leadership traits as Mark has, and I’ll take that any day of the week.”
Sanchez appears most comfortable when the game’s on the line, he has to scramble to make plays and save the Jets from a loss. That means he should be right at home during what will likely be a frantic finish to this season.
“His competitive desire is phenomenal,” Ryan said. “We’ve seen it around here that the bigger the game, the bigger the time in the game, the better he plays.”
Do you think the boos should stop? Be heard in the comments below…
(TM and Copyright 2011 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2011 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)