When meeting a loaded opponent on the road in the playoffs, the underdog is usually faced with a myriad of difficult questions.
In the Jets’ case, they must ask themselves whether their top ranked rushing attack can set a furious enough tempo to force a sizzling San Diego outfit outside a comfort zone unchallenged in months. They must also ask themselves whether their heralded defense, undoubtedly the finest unit remaining in the playoffs, can slow down a juggernaut Chargers offense that has racked up at least twenty points in every single game this season. Can New York’s criminally underrated secondary mitigate a dynamic passing attack? Surely, the Jets coaching staff, led by hyper confident ringleader Rex Ryan, have faith in their personnel. Yet, until the results begin pouring in from outside the hypothetical realm, eyeing the matchups and making predictions brings one no closer to the cold hard truth. That will be revealed this Sunday.
But the most delectable possibility, concerning the Jets anyway, has not yet been mentioned. It’s a development that would elevate them into another stratosphere, no doubt championship contenders.
Impressive defensive prowess, outlandish physicality, and admirable cohesiveness have delivered a heretofore inconsistent group onto the doorstep of greatness, though one mitigating factor may send them crashing en masse into a celebratory party that even the most starry eyed optimist never could have envisioned. And it’s a simple question, far less complicated than those queries aforementioned: Has the quarterback figured it out?
After all the overblown controversies, glorified accomplishments, perfect throws followed by folly, harsh times and practice slides, has Mark Sanchez taken the next step, smack in the middle of a potentially historic Super Bowl run?
Well, some stirring evidence has recently surfaced that this is a far different quarterback than the beleaguered version singularly responsible for a few brutal regular season setbacks. But sports can provide reprieves damn near immediate. The Jets’ recent success has rendered Sanchez’s growing pains an unpleasant memory, instead of the principal alibi for a disappointing campaign. Suddenly, the playoffs were a real chance to put it all together, tie together all those individually strong facets into an unstoppable force. Not many gave the Jets a legitimate shot to turn this difficult trick. Have they?
Sanchez is the key. Like any quarterback on the precipice of something truly special, his narrative now mirrors the whole. Stall in San Diego, and Sanchez, along with the Jets, are a temporarily noteworthy story. Everyone agrees the future is bright. A polite applause is reserved for a roster that approached the inconceivable, without taking total possession of a miracle and calling it their own. Just a few steps short of destiny… soon, the Jets are forgotten. As they should be, overtaken by conference championship game coverage, and eventually, a Super Bowl they could have improbably participated in. The offseason begins, and the whole process starts over again, new characters and circumstances, a harrowing amount of work ahead. They start over. And Sanchez, too, starts over. Arriving off a poor statistical rookie year that may have ended with a flourish, but ultimately, did not prove much of anything.
The Jets and Sanchez. Intertwined.
The rookie stepped to the podium today wearing a USC tee shirt and sporting a bushy beard. “It was a special game last week,” Sanchez said. ”Just taking care of the football, making the right decisions. I still have a lot of work to do.” This work in progress compiled a 139.4 passer rating in his postseason debut. It seemed offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer exposed a few favorable matchups. “He’s taught me so much about playing in this league,” Sanchez said of Schottenheimer, who is suddenly a sought after head coaching commodity.
Had Braylon Edwards corralled a sure touchdown pass, instead of dropping it in the end zone, Sanchez’s stats may have been even more impressive. As it was, game plan and execution had worked very well in concert. “Just keep throwing him the ball,” a supportive Sanchez said regarding Edwards, “He’s bound to catch it.”
Sanchez took a definite step forward beginning with the Colts game, an overlooked occurrence, obscured due to Jim Caldwell’s controversial decision to bench his regulars. The improvement carried over. “It just kind of gradually turned,” said Sanchez of his development. “At the press conference after the Cincy game, [it hit me], it all just came together… turnovers get you beat in this league.” A hard lesson had been learned.
Sanchez was eventually asked how it felt to be among the final NFL quarterbacks standing, an elite group featuring brand names all over the place. “It’s great,” he said, before quickly adding, “But you don’t just want to be there. You want to win it.”
Despite his youth, Sanchez is highly conscious of this chance’s preciousness. He relayed an inspiring conversation with Thomas Jones, wherein the veteran running back encouraged Sanchez to keep championship visions in mind while toiling in the film room. “That could be us,” Sanchez said. “It could change your life forever. You can be a champion forever.”
New York’s defense and running game… truly a topnotch pair… a symbiotic partnership essential to the team finding victory. But, just as he needed to do against a lesser team in Cincinnati, Sanchez must step up. The Chargers may be slowed down by this defense, but they will still make plays. The Jets must reply.
Sanchez need not imitate Kurt Warner. If he is good, the Jets are great. And there’s no telling what a great team can do. They answer all the questions.
Here’s some news from Rex Ryan’s presser, straight from the coach.
On Braylon Edwards [who missed practice for a court appearance stemming from a misdemeanor assault charge back in Cleveland on October 5th] having a breakout game: “I just sense it. The drops stick out. But look at the catches he’s made, the blocks. I told him the next time you’re open like that, catch it one-handed. He looked at me like I was crazy, like you guys do.”
On Steve Weatherford: “We [certainly hope he’s better].”… I think he’s fine right now.”
On Revis not winning Defensive player of the year:“I would like to congratulate the people who voted for Darrelle Revis. The number is eight, and no, that’s not the number of touchdowns Green Bay gave up to Arizona, it’s the number of passing touchdowns we’ve given up… Revis is going for different hardware. This for me is the most impact a corner has ever made in a season…” [Charles Woodson won the award.]
On the recent positive developments shown by Mark Sanchez: “You can’t buy experience. He’s able to read defenses. It’s the confidence and command of the offense [he has shown.] …When you’re a young Q.B. , he’s just worried about what our play is. He’s clearly passed that now.”
On if he cares about the Jets’ perception in the eyes of other teams: “Don’t care.”
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