Florham Park, N.J.– After the Jets suffered a crucial and devastating loss on Christmas Eve the talk turned to the evaluation of third-year quarterback Mark Sanchez. A “report” surfaced online indicating that the Jets were exploring their options to part ways with their inconsistent quarterback, but let’s be clear Sanchez isn’t going anywhere. He will be the Jets starting quarterback headed into the 2012 season, beyond that is likely up for discussion and up to him to prove that this team can indeed succeed with him at the helm.

“I’ve stated over and over my feelings about Mark Sanchez.” Rex Ryan said, “And I’ve said it before, no quarterback’s going to look great when that’s all you do and you fall behind and things like that, but it wasn’t Mark’s best day by any stretch of the imagination, but we know he’s done it. And he’s been doing it. We have great confidence in him and I have great confidence in him.”

Sanchez hears the criticism and understands it comes with the territory. Being a young quarterback, selected with the fifth overall draft pick to play in New York on a team with high expectations, it’s just the nature of the beast that you will find yourself taking heat if you fail to live up to the lofty expectations thrust upon you in this situation.

Rumors are flying that the Jets are exploring their options for ways to replace Mark Sanchez, but they are just that, rumors. Sanchez will be the Jets 2012 starting QB. (Jetsinsider.com Photo)

“It’s understood anytime things don’t go your way, things aren’t as successful as people expect. Obviously, there are high expectations. We went to the AFC Championship two years in a row, so there is only one more step to make really, win that game and then go win the Super Bowl.” Sanchez said, “With those expectations, that’s fine. When things don’t go right, people are going to immediately question me, Rex (Ryan) (and) Schotty (Brian Schottenheimer).

“That’s the way it goes, and that’s the position we’re in. It’s important in times like these to just trust what you know, trust the guys around you and just keep working. You have to work through these times. You have to work through the good times and bad times, and that’s okay. I’m ready for these challenges and I know we can overcome a lot with the guys in this locker room.”

The truth is the Jets reached when they drafted Sanchez with the number five overall pick, it’s not a knock on Sanchez it’s just a fact. When you draft a quarterback in the top five you put that quarterback on a pedestal with tremendous pressure to live up to. But the Jets drafted Sanchez, after starting only one season in college, and put him on a roster that was good enough to make the AFC Championship in his first two seasons with that little experience, which made it an impossible task to ask him to live up to the paycheck that is included with being a top five pick. Sanchez could very well end up having a extremely successful career, but he is not and never was a can’t miss prospect like Peyton Manning or like Andrew Luck supposedly is.

To hold him to those standards doesn’t do anyone any good, all you can ask is for the young quarterback to continue to learn, work hard and improve and with as short of a resume as he had, that was always going to take time. It might take more time than needed to win the ultimate goal of the super bowl with this group of players, but that’s on management for picking him where they did, they made their bed now they have to lie in it and wait to see if it will pay off or if it’s time to cut the cord and start over, but Sanchez needs and will get at least one more season to prove himself.

“I’m not out to prove anything like that to people. I just want to work hard for these guys on the team. These guys know I’m leading by example, being vocal if I need to, but these are the guys I’m playing for right here in this locker room and in this building.” Sanchez said, “When we do that, when we all have that approach, I think that’s when it’s great for the fans too because then we’re playing for each other, it’s obvious, and we get wins. Then, everybody is happy.”

With the success he led the team to over his first two seasons and the way he played during the playoffs both seasons, particularly last year’s playoffs the standard for his expectations grew even bigger and as unfair as that is Sanchez refuses to use that as a crutch. It was great to have the success he had the past two seasons, but he wants more just like the fans want more and he has no interest in coasting off his past success or holding his first two years up as an example of what he has done right.

“No, because you can’t hang your hat on that (reaching AFC Championship in first two seasons), at least I don’t. I know a lot of Jets fans this past off-season were like, ‘Man, you took us to two AFC Championships. This is the best two seasons we’ve had in so long,’ and they’ve thanked me and been excited. Right now, obviously, when you’re not winning, it’s like, ‘Man, come on, you have to play better than that.’ That’s okay.” Sanchez said, “These fans want results. That’s fine. We’re here to create results, create wins and manufacture wins each week and we just haven’t been doing that. We haven’t been as consistent as we need to be. We’ve identified a lot of the problems and now, it’s never too late to fix them and this is our chance this week.”

So Sanchez will get the chance to continue showing his value to this team next season, but what the Jets will almost certainly do is upgrade their backup situation, they liked what they saw from Greg McElroy in the preseason but it was just a couple preseason games so the team will need to see more. With Mark Brunell retiring it will open a spot for the Jets to either draft a quarterback in the middle rounds (although there are plenty of other needs still to be addressed) or sign a competent backup who can at least push Sanchez and give the team a viable option to proceed with should Sanchez falter.

The only possible way Sanchez doesn’t go into next season as the starter is if Peyton Manning becomes available as a free-agent and the Jets decide to take a gamble, but even if he is available it would still be a risk the Jets would likely pass on. Injuries are a part of life as an NFL player, but subsequent neck injuries and surgery complications will make all 32 teams squeamish about shelling out that Peyton Manning money, even if it’s only for two years or so. Take a shot with Manning and come up empty and this team will be forced to start from scratch all over again, the Jets have tried the band-aid replacement at quarterback before to no avail, one would think they’d be hesitant to go down that route again, even if it’s for Manning, who as we know Ryan is awfully fond of.

To get Manning the team would have to part with Sanchez, they can’t possibly ask Sanchez to be Manning’s understudy after starting for three seasons, and this organization is not ready to give up on Sanchez despite what some outsiders think. The funniest part of the “report” saying that the Jets don’t have faith in their quarterback was the fact that this came after a game where they asked their quarterback to throw the ball 59 times (technically more if you count the sacks and scrambles from Sanchez that would take the tally up to 67), when they were having success running the ball (105 yards on 25 carries for 4.2 yards a carry).

If you don’t believe in your quarterback why ask him to throw the ball that much while simultaneously abandoning your effective rushing attack?

For this Brian Schottenheimer is the one on the hot seat and likely to take the fall. There has been speculation surrounding Schottenheimer for years, but it appears his time with the Jets is actually drawing to a close. If the Jets win and get some help to slip into the playoffs and win a road playoff game there is a chance Schottenheimer would stay, but if the Jets fail to make the playoffs someone will have to fall on the sword and that someone is likely to be Schottenheimer.

For the first time names of replacements are being floated about with offensive line coach Bill Callahan and consultant Tom Moore being the two names mentioned most with taking over the offense. The Jets would likely try to coax Moore to come on full time should they fire Schottenheimer and if they fail on that front they will likely offer Callahan the position, although they could just offer Callahan the job and keep Moore as a consultant. Either way the Jets first choice would be to promote someone from within.

During Schottenheimer’s time here he has run essentially the same system with Chad Pennington, Brett Favre and Sanchez. He has been called out by opposing players and ex-players for being incredibly predictable and unwilling to adapt his system to work with the type of talent around him.

It’s never as simple as putting the blame on an offensive coordinator and Sanchez definitely has plenty of areas that need improvement, most problematic is his pension for holding on to the ball too long instead of simply throwing it away, but with all the fair criticism that is thrown Schottenheimer’s way it would make the most sense to part with him after the season and see if Sanchez can flourish in a system, run by someone he is already familiar with and who is familiar with him, that plays more to his strengths (Ground & Pound, play-action bootlegs and once in awhile open it up by taking some shots down field).

From the outside it may not always seem like Sanchez has progressed much, but considering where he started when he came into this league he has absolutely improved leaps and bounds, he might not have improved enough to get this team where they want to be, but there are far more flaws on this year’s team than just Sanchez.

In the off-season the Jets will look to address their other needs (right tackle, safety and outside linebacker) and solidify their backup quarterback situation, but they will head into the season with Sanchez entering his fourth year and with a full training camp to likely get used to a new system and let his play next season make his case for him being the starter, but while many fans and reporters are focused on next year, Sanchez is still focused on Miami this week and the chance, no matter how slim it is, that they can still make the playoffs this season.

When Sanchez was asked if he thought he has improved since his rookie season, he answered but immediately shifted the question back to where his ultimate focus is currently at. Forget about the past, forget about all the possibilities in the future, this week’s about Sanchez and the Jets fighting for their playoff lives.

“No question, absolutely. Whether it’s defensive recognition or clock management and stuff like that, understanding the offense and the system, I’m light years ahead, so it’s been a great run so far and we’re not done yet.” Sanchez said, “Hopefully, we’ll get a win and see what happens.”

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