FLORHAM PARK, N.Y. – Caught in the emotion of the moment, New York Jets coach Rex Ryan may have gone too far in inferring that quarterback Mark Sanchez(notes) was "stupid" for calling a timeout at an inopportune time.
The "S" word Ryan should have used was "sloppy." It's fair to say that some Jets fans are using another word that starts with "S" and ends with "Y" to describe Sanchez's play.
On Thursday night, unrealized potential will be the running theme when the Jets play at Denver. The difference is that Sanchez was expected to provide much more by now, particularly when compared to Broncos counterpart Tim Tebow(notes), a controversial first-round pick who has single-handedly revived the option in the NFL due to his lack of passing skills.
While the views on Tebow are best described as a continental divide, the opinion on Sanchez is trending more toward disappointing, even though he has helped the Jets get to back-to-back AFC championship games. Midway through his third season, the Jets anticipated that Sanchez could handle more of the offensive load. They hoped he would be on his way to stardom by now. Instead, Ryan has spent the better part of the past two days explaining his halftime remark regarding the ill-advised timeout Sanchez called Sunday night against New England (allowing the Patriots more time to score). Ryan has also had to generally defend Sanchez.
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"I think we're getting better and he's getting better … like I said, I'm proud that Mark is our quarterback," Ryan said. "I think he's done a great job."
Ryan then preempted the obvious follow-up question.
"Can I put an exact thing on really what he's better at? I just think overall, he's a better player now than he was when he was a rookie quarterback. That kind of goes without saying."
No, it really doesn't. Sanchez is still this maddening amalgamation of intriguing talent and inconsistency. He has made progress, but that improvement has been glacial at best. He has increased his quarterback rating from a substandard 63.0 as a rookie to an 81.5 so far this season. Same goes for his completion percentage (from a weak 53.8 to a marginally better 56.7) and yards per attempt (6.7 to 7.0).
His slow progress begs the question: Will Sanchez get to stardom in time to take advantage of New York's defense and Ryan's leadership?
Look past Sunday's timeout foul-up, which Sanchez admitted, "It's just a stupid play. I have to be better than that." You'll find a troubling array of turnovers at times. In losses to Baltimore, Oakland and the latest one to New England, Sanchez had a total of seven turnovers (three fumbles and four interceptions). Even in wins over Dallas and Buffalo, Sanchez had to overcome baffling picks, such as one that Cowboys linebacker Sean Lee(notes) returned for a score and another inside of Buffalo's 10-yard line in the first quarter.
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The two against New England on Sunday were incredibly damaging and completely on Sanchez. The first was a pass that was tipped by running back Shonn Greene(notes), but Sanchez admitted to throwing the ball too hard.
"To get intercepted on a check-down, that's like one in a thousand throws," Sanchez said. "He made a good play and I have to get rid of it sooner."
Tomlinson said he had never seen such a pass intercepted.
"I don't think that's something Mark is going to get too worried about because it's a fluke," Tomlinson said. "I hope he doesn't get worried about that."
That would be easy to accept if it didn't happen so often. While Sanchez and veteran backup Mark Brunell(notes) said they didn't see a common theme to any of the picks, they may have overlooked the most obvious reason: continual sloppiness.
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On Tuesday, Sanchez, quarterback coach Matt Cavanaugh and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer did a review course on reads and checks, going over the little things that lead to big problems, such as looking off the receiver until the last second to keep the defense honest. Ryan didn't have to say it, but Sanchez knows the little things are leading to those sloppy mistakes.
"You don't like not playing well enough for your team to win," Sanchez said. "That's frustrating, that's personal … the most encouraging part about the last game is, you make physical mistakes like that, that stuff happens. You made a bad throw, as long as you make the right reads and the right checks. For the most part, my reads and checks were right on, so we just have to keep that rolling and live with the physical mistakes and rep them out with practice."
Maybe, but by now you'd think a lot of those mistakes would have been eliminated. You'd think some of the interceptions would disappear.
So far, he's still sloppy.
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- Rex Ryan