NEW YORK (WFAN/AP) — In a season filled with boos and criticisms, Mark Sanchez refuses to listen to any of it.
The Jets quarterback has too much on the line to give in to anyone who points out the things he can’t do. As far as the Jets are concerned, he has been exactly what they’ve needed in the fourth quarter lately.
“He’s a winner and he finds ways to raise his level of play and the level of play of his teammates around him,” coach Rex Ryan said earlier this week. “Everybody believes that we’re going to get it done and that’s just how Mark plays.”
There are still struggles and frustrating moments, but Sanchez again is playing his best with the game — and the season — on the line. He has 10 fourth-quarter comebacks — including the last two weeks — or overtime victories, and became just the fifth quarterback in the Super Bowl era to earn 30 victories in his first three NFL seasons.
Sanchez humbly credits almost everyone other than himself for being in a group that includes Dan Marino, Ben Roethlisberger, Joe Flacco and Matt Ryan, saying he has been “fortunate” to be on teams with strong offensive lines, receivers and defenses.
“I think, as grateful as I am, you’re just kicking yourself because there were a couple of games that you wish you could’ve won,” Sanchez said Wednesday. “We’ll keep piling up victories if we can and keep pushing toward our goals.”
Those are: winning the rest of their games, making the playoffs, returning to the AFC championship game for the third straight year and reaching the Super Bowl. Still, Sanchez knows there’s plenty to improve on. While they scored three touchdowns in the last 5 minutes of a 34-19 win at Washington on Sunday, the Jets were brutal in the third quarter.
They gained 39 total yards on 20 plays, got two first downs — one on a penalty — and went 1 of 6 on third down. Sanchez was 5 of 13 for 19 yards in the quarter, and New York showed no indication it was about to have an offensive outburst.
“We’re there in spurts, I think,” Sanchez said. “We kind of took that third quarter off and really hurt ourselves.”
But how could that be, especially for a team so desperate for victories?
“I don’t know the reason for it, but we sure weren’t on the same page,” Sanchez said, pointing out the Jets’ three third-quarter penalties and an ill-advised timeout called by him. “We just weren’t sharp. That’s not the stuff you want to put on film. We can’t afford to play like that at any point in the game because it will get you beat. We found a way to win, and that was important, but we just can’t take plays off like that.”
Sanchez shoulders most of the blame, as he usually does, but it hasn’t been all him. Not that anyone would think otherwise based on the negative comments directed at him.
“I think that comes with just playing in this market, and that’s understood when you get a chance to play here,” he said. “I take all the praise and criticism, and you know, find a happy medium there, because it’s never as good or bad as you think, or as anybody says. You just try to stay in the middle.”
Even if it isn’t as easy as that sounds. Sunday’s game against the Kansas City Chiefs will mark the first home game since Sanchez was booed in pregame introductions. Two wins — and fourth-quarter rallies — later, there might be a different reception from Jets fans this time around.
“I haven’t thought about it until you brought it up, so I don’t know,” Sanchez said.
His teammates were quick to come to his defense after that incident two weeks ago, saying it wasn’t fair to the quarterback. Sure, he hadn’t been playing great, they said, but neither had the rest of the team.
Well, the offensive line hasn’t allowed a sack the last two games, the running game has gotten a bit of a jumpstart again, and that’s all helped Sanchez offer a winning reminder of how cool, calm and collected he is under late-game pressure. His 30-yard laser to Santonio Holmes to put the Jets ahead Sunday started the fourth-quarter surge and got the critics off his back — for at least a few days.
“Everybody is going to struggle in this league, there’s no doubt,” Ryan said. “But he’s the type of guy that can pick himself up, elevate his play and everybody (else), we’re a team now that we expect it. He’s done it so often that we just expect it.”
Do you think Sanchez has what it takes to lift the Jets to the playoffs yet again? Sound off in the comments below…
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