NEW YORK (WFAN/AP) — Mark Sanchez and Santonio Holmes have moved on from The Rift.
Best buds? Well, maybe not quite yet. But the Jets quarterback and wide receiver have smoothed over the icy feelings that helped derail the team’s season.
“I know it can work between us,” Sanchez said Thursday night before being honored by the Randall’s Island Sports Foundation at its Fielding Dreams NYC gala in Manhattan. “It’s not a matter of `if.’ It’s a matter of `when’ – and that’s now. And, I’m thrilled about that.”
Sanchez confirmed what became obvious in a series of offseason tweets between the teammates.
No. 6 tweeted a photo of a heart-shaped box of shortbread cookies to Holmes on Feb. 15, asking, “you want to be my Valentine?”
Holmes then congratulated his quarterback on signing a big-money contract extension via Twitter: “Very happy for Mark & the entire team with his extension. Looking forward to getting back to work when I get back from this amazing trip (in Africa).”
Sanchez, appearing rested and relaxed in a 25-minute sit-down with reporters, said he and Holmes had a “productive meeting” in Orlando a few weeks ago and their problems seem like “ancient history.” The two were part of a tense locker-room rift that punctuated a disappointing 8-8 season in which the Jets failed to make the playoffs and had many wondering whether the two would be able to co-exist.
“I don’t want to speak for Santonio, but I know I underachieved,” Sanchez said. “I think there were some things I could have handled better and with our communication. After the season, we’ve been in constant communication. It was something where we just kind of smiled. When I first saw him, I was like, `Man, this thing really took on a life of his own.’ He was like, `You’re telling me. I’ve got people, family calling me like, `What’s up with your boy? You guys don’t like each other anymore?’ No, it’s not like that. So it got blown out more than it needed to.”
It has been a tumultuous offseason for Sanchez, who signed a three-year contract extension last week despite many fans – and anonymous teammates – calling for the Jets to pursue Peyton Manning.
“It didn’t bother me,” Sanchez insisted.
He was criticized for not showing more improvement in his third season, and chose to stay silent while some fans and media piled on this offseason.
“I still think no matter what you say, whether I come back to try to defend myself or not, it doesn’t matter – unless you go win games,” he said. “That’s the ultimate defense. Go win games next year and play well, and this is all a distant memory and a great lesson.”
That’s what the Jets are banking on – literally – after giving him an extension for $40.5 million last Friday, with $20.5 million guaranteed. Sanchez threw for a career-high 3,474 yards and 26 touchdowns while also rushing for six scores, but also committed 26 turnovers.
That performance had some wondering why the Jets would invest so much money in a player who has yet to live up to lofty expectations after being drafted No. 5 overall, despite leading New York to consecutive AFC championship games his first two seasons.
“It comes with the territory, no matter what,” Sanchez said. “It’s a polarizing position and that’s OK. I understand that.”
While he accepted a large part of the blame for the team’s failures last season, Sanchez also thought the Jets “lost some of our identity” on offense after New York became enamored of its receiving corps – particularly Plaxico Burress and Derrick Mason – and got away from a run-first approach.
“That can totally happen, so that’s understandable,” he said. “It’s understandable why you get excited about players like that. When you see their resume, it’s like, `We’ve got to get these guys the ball.’ I think we fell victim to that and it was a good learning experience for all of us.”
Sanchez also wouldn’t heap the blame on former offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, who is now with St. Louis after a mutual parting with the Jets in January.
“Was everybody responsible? Sure,” Sanchez said. “Did I turn the ball over too many times? Absolutely. Did he make every perfect play call? Of course not. Nobody does, whether you win the Super Bowl or not. It’s just not realistic, but I don’t think it was (just) his fault.”
LaDainian Tomlinson called the Jets’ locker room the worst he had ever seen, and rookie quarterback Greg McElroy said there was a “corrupt mindset.” Sanchez thinks those characterizations might be a bit overstated, and added that free agents shouldn’t be concerned about joining the Jets.
“I think the last two offseasons, everybody wanted to come here,” he said. “We don’t play as well last year and now some guys are outspoken about it and it’s suddenly not a good place? We’ve got to keep it in perspective. … I think anybody coming here would love it here.”
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