FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Despite their play much of this season, the New York Jets in fact look like they are a playoff team, their recent three game winning streak giving them a somewhat tentative hold on the final Wild Card spot. But the reason why the Jets are winning is because at some point between Week 11 and Week 12, their quarterback realized he doesn't need to be their hero.
It has been an up and down year for Mark Sanchez, his third in the league, as he continues the growing pains of the past two years. But what Sanchez is finally starting to grasp is that he doesn't have to make every throw be the one that gets him in to Canton. Instead, he is managing the game, playing within himself and is cutting back on the errors.
Before this three game run, all Jets wins, Sanchez was muddling through a very average year. The Jets were 5-5 with Sanchez accounting for 2,333 passing yards, 14 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. The irony is that over the past three games, his passing yards are down to an average of 175 yards per games but he has seven touchdowns and just one interception during that stretch.
Suddenly, Sanchez is looking more and more like an elite quarterback even if he isn't trying to play like one.
"There's always that temptation to want to make a play and be a competitor and all that, but you have to understand the situation we're in in the game and what we're playing for, the bigger picture," Sanchez said. "It's gotten a little better, but it still has to improve."
Earlier in the season as the offense struggled during a three game losing streak, the wide receivers complained that they weren't getting the ball often enough. Sanchez seemed to be listening to all of this, forcing the ball repeatedly in an effort to appease Plaxico Burress and Santonio Holmes.
The result was losses that eventually conceded the AFC East to the New England Patriots by the middle of the season. All that has changed as a Sanchez renaissance is lifting the Jets to an 8-5 record and no one is laughing at the prospect of this team sweeping its final three games en route to the postseason.
So what's the dirt on Sanchez and his recent string of solid games? Factors on the term certainly are contributing, with the offensive line having improved its pass protection drastically and the rushing game suddenly looking like the Jets "Ground & Pound" of old. But while it would be easy to chalk up the Jets success to those factors, Sanchez is learning to settle for underneath routes and that not every play has to be a game breaker.
A quarterback who was sacked 13 times in the season's first five games is now getting rid of the ball faster during his progression and is willing to sail it out of bounds when need be. For a team that, three weeks ago was given up for dead. It has been a tremendous turnaround and sign of quiet maturation for their quarterback to settle down and play disciplined in the pocket.
The less Sanchez has been looking for success, the more he's found it.
"I think hopefully we're just starting to hit our stride and we're not there yet," Sanchez said. "There's still a sense of urgency, there's still things we can clean up, and that's everybody and it starts with me."
Kristian R. Dyer can be followed at twitter.com/KristianRDyer