The Jets did everything they could to sneak out the move in the dead of night, but you cannot cut Mark Sanchez in an empty forest and not expect it to make a sound. We have come so far with Mark Sanchez. To have him released like a bad corporate earnings report seems unfair to all we've been through.
When quarterbacks go bad, we tend to remember only their worst moments, their four-interception fiascos, that playoff implosion, all the butt-fumbling. But all quarterbacks start out with promise, with the notion that all that failure your franchise has been through -- all that failure that put you in a position to draft a top quarterback in the first place -- has been worth it... it's all going to change now. This man will make it all better.
Sanchez was supposed to make it all better for the New York Jets, and even though his name is obviously a joke now, there was a time when he did just that. There was a time when it wasn't that silly to think Sanchez was going to be the superstar quarterback the NFL world so desperately wanted him to be.
Sanchez was doubly cruel to the Jets fanbase because he was at his best during his first two seasons in the league; he regressed as his career went on rather than improved. During his first two years, which happened to coincide with Rex Ryan's first two years as Jets coach, the Jets went to the AFC Championship Game twice.
Mark Sanchez has won four playoff games in his career -- all four on the road -- and that's more than Boomer Esiason, Dan Fouts, Randall Cunningham, Warren Moon and Michael Vick.
No one remembers this now, but the zenith of the Mark Sanchez Experience, the time you thought he really might be what Jets fans and GQ wanted him to be, was the 2011 AFC Championship Game at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh. The Steelers had taken a 24-0 lead, but Sanchez brought the Jets all the way back to a 24-19 deficit, throwing for 170 yards and two touchdowns in the second half. I know you won't believe this, but he was terrific, and all the Jets needed to do to give the hot Sanchez one more chance was to stop the Steelers on third down late heading into the two-minute warning. There wasn't a soul in that building who didn't think he was going to do it, either.
Think about what happens if he gets the chance, and pulls it off. He would have beaten Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger three consecutive weeks, in the playoffs, on the road. He would have set an all-time record for most road playoff victories with five. (He can still do this, I suppose. Maybe with the Rams?) And most of all, he would have brought the Jets, those lowly Jets, to the Super Bowl for the first time in more than 40 years. The Namath comparisons would have felt worthy. He could have survived 1,000 butt fumbles.
But no. The Jets couldn't stop the Steelers on third down, thanks to a terrific Antonio Brown catch, and Pittsburgh ran out the clock. After the game, Sanchez said, "It was too bad because as a competitor, as a quarterback, you just want one more chance. That's just how I am." That's just how I am. That was Mark Sanchez talking! And everyone believed him. He was that close. It can all come down to one play.
After that it all fell apart, of course. The problem with Sanchez was that the reason he had so much success with the Jets his first two years was that he was the ball-control quarterback that Rex Ryan wanted for his defense-first team. He was excellent at this, cautious, playing within himself. After those seasons, though, he was supposed to take the next leap forward into legitimate superstar status. The Jets would loosen the reigns.
Sanchez did not handle the loosening of the reigns well. He tried to be Manning or Brady and, suffice it to say, he was not Manning or Brady. He actually threw 26 touchdowns in the 2011 season -- that's more than Brady threw last year -- but it came with 18 interceptions and the promise of even more regression in 2012. By the time that awful season was over, you wondered how anyone had ever thought Sanchez could have played quarterback in the first place. He was injured last year and this release -- to be replaced by Vick, of all people -- felt like a mercy kill, even at just 27 years of age.
We pump up young quarterbacks all the time in the NFL -- here's Walter Football on a 2010 prospect: "A franchise quarterback... has carried the spotlight since he was a teenager and has surpassed the hype... has outstanding skill set with the elite intangibles you see in the great quarterbacks...isn't fazed by tense situations and has great leadership when the game is on the line... puts in the hours to be a great quarterback and you see it on tape." They were talking about Jimmy Clausen -- and most of them never end up doing anything but ruining their franchises for half a decade. (It wasn't long ago that Blaine Gabbert was going to save the Jaguars.) And certainly, Sanchez held the Jets back; his failures the last three years forced the Jets to overhaul their entire organization.
But laugh all you want now. There was a time when a reasonable person could have believed that Mark Sanchez was truly going to be a star. He wasn't close. But he was closer than most people ever get.
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