By Jeff Capellini, CBSNewYork/WFAN.com
NEW YORK (WFAN) — When it comes to who Mark Sanchez is and who he could one day become, there is a great divide across Jets Nation. There’s honestly no way to know if he’ll ever be the true face of the franchise or at the end of the day just another quarterback to go through this organization’s revolving door.
I’ve made it pretty clear over the last three years that I think you have to ride Sanchez until he proves he can’t get it done. Now whether or not we’ve reached that point is open to debate, a tug of war that will continue long into the offseason following what was basically a disgraceful 8-8 season that featured the Jets failing to walk the walk.
If statistics are your thing, then you have to look at Sanchez’s 2011 season as a progression over the previous two. It’s hard to say that nearly 3,500 yards and around 25 touchdowns, with far less interceptions, was a disappointing campaign. But if you take into consideration the timing of many of Sanchez’s mistakes and his general decision making and execution once taking a snap, it’s really hard to say that this quarterback has shown you enough to have confidence in him going forward.
Now, that’s not to say that Sanchez should be replaced as the starter. The odds are very long the Jets will give up on him or will somehow pull off an incredible trade to land Peyton Manning, an idea that has gained momentum of late, but to me still seems as far fetched a notion as there is for reasons that will be explained if and when the Jets ever decide to travel down that road.
However, I would certainly be surprised if the Jets do not replace offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, even if this team’s problems were only partly his fault. The Jets simply have too much invested in Sanchez to let a conservative play-caller continue to be the mentor of a quarterback who clearly has grown only slightly during their time together. There’s just no way to say with any certainty that things will get better next year.
What Sanchez needs is a final chance in a new system, with a new voice in his helmet. Reports have suggested if certain things go certain ways in the immediate future the Jets could have the opportunity to choose from Josh McDaniels and Norv Turner as their next offensive coordinator. Either would be an upgrade, but it’s not worth delving too much into because nobody has lost their job yet in the aftermath of Sunday’s season-ending 19-17 loss in Miami, a defeat which capped a three-game losing streak and was pretty much a microcosm of the Jets’ season of consistent inconsistency on both sides of the ball.
But this column really wasn’t designed to pile on Schottenheimer or the offense. I started this with the intention of telling Sanchez straight out that there are some things he does that simply cannot be defended, or at this point tolerated anymore.
As if enough red flags hadn’t popped up while watching Sanchez look indecisive and at times scared out on the field during the season’s often agonizing 17 weeks, it took until the postgame press conference following the last game of the season for me to finally wave the white flag of surrender in his direction.
I simply hated his comments to the media following the loss to the Dolphins. They reeked of an apparent lack of pride. Sanchez spoke in tongues, featuring a million and one “we” statements, as if to say “we win as a team and lose as a team.” And most of the time that’s precisely the type of response you want to maintain team unity and show that one man is not solely to blame or praise depending on an outcome.
However, there is no position in sports quite like quarterback in the NFL. More hinges on what he does than on any other position on the field. And with every accolade that comes following a win comes an equal if not greater amount of criticism following a loss.
And how that quarterback handles that situation speaks volumes about who he is as both a player and a man.
Simply, Sanchez needed to take responsibility for Sunday’s loss. He needed to scream, following his mind-boggling three-interception performance, “I let my teammates and fans down today!”
But he really didn’t do that. Instead he spoke of still having loads of confidence, which, of course, is exactly what no one wants to hear when there are no games left to play. He spoke of perhaps needing to work on fundamentals, but he never really said he needed to with conviction. He instead hid behind the “we” mantra.
And there’s cowardice in taking that approach.
At the end of the day this team goes as Sanchez goes, which in this case meant straight into the most pivotal, and likely tumultuous, offseason in franchise history.
Don’t let the Santonio Holmes huddle fiasco take your attention away from the importance of Sanchez’s failure to truly take responsibility for his offense — and it is his offense regardless of what the guy formulating the plays decides to call. The response to the Holmes debacle is just a way for the media to put an ugly face on an ugly season. In time, “Tone” will atone and the Jets will move forward.
But the Jets will not move forward at the most important position on the field until Sanchez acts like a player with something to lose.
Maybe his team-first responses to questions are just how he is, based on his upbringing and earlier coaching, and that in some way is to be commended. But the scarier notion may be that Sanchez doesn’t feel like his job is in jeopardy, which is likely true but shows a comfort level that this kid, let’s be honest, should not be showing, regardless of the team’s current lack of options. The truth is he should conduct himself in front of reporters as if every snap could be his last because this Milquetoast approach to answering important questions is not what you want from someone who in reality speaks for 53 men.
Would you put it past Mike Tannenbaum to go out and explore a Manning trade, especially considering the general manager’s past dealings with one Brett Favre? Would you put it past owner Woody Johnson to not want another star in his stable to drool over? Would you even put it past Rex Ryan, Sanchez’s most vocal supporter, to start to fear for his own job security and turn on this kid when he’s at his weakest?
Since the Super Bowl is the only goal, I rule nothing out.
Sanchez needs to show some damn emotion once in a while. From time to time he needs to speak from the heart, the same one he often showed while running for his life behind an offensive line that was mostly a disgrace this season.
Most importantly, Sanchez needs to talk like this is his team.
He rarely if ever does and therein lies a big problem with his teammates’ and the public’s perception of whether or not he has the mental game to be the man in this town.
Right now, Sanchez doesn’t speak like the true face of the franchise, and since his performance on the field is still that of an NFL adolescent, it’s nearly impossible to have confidence in him as anything more than a bit player.
And that is never what you want from your quarterback.
Win or lose, through good times and bad, there must be accountability. Sanchez really seems to toe a fine line when it comes to taking responsibility. It’s an indecisive trait that’s nearly as see-through as his constant decisions to check down or lock in on his first read.
At this point, from a player-personnel standpoint, the Jets need leaders more than anything else. They’ll always get talented bodies to fill positions, but will those players as individuals be man enough to handle the good with the bad in a town that demands that their heroes be stand-up guys?
Sanchez either has to step up his public persona or at the very least do a better job of admitting fault. If not, he’ll solely be judged on his on-field performance. It’s already happening, mostly because this guy refuses to show everyone how he ticks beyond his often endearing goofiness.
They say there’s no “I” in “team,” but there should be when it comes to Sanchez and the Jets. Regardless of the fairness of the position he’s been put in he has no choice but to man up at the microphone and then do his very best to make good on all the things about his play that he sees as problematic.
That’s the only way we’ll ever find out what he’s truly made of as a leader of men. And who knows? Maybe if Sanchez is more honest with himself and the public he’ll begin to come to grips with what’s ailing him on the field.
He’s has to try something because, whether you want to admit it or not, his current contract may very well be his only one with the Jets.
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