The New York Jets have been to the last two AFC Championships. They have unquestionably taken the title of "New York's marquee football team" away from the Giants. They have a great and eminently quotable head coach in Rex Ryan, and a developing star quarterback in Mark Sanchez. It would seem on the surface that all is hunky-dory in Jetsville, but there was a time last season where things almost blew up between quarterback and coach.
After the Jets were trounced 45-3 at the hands of the New England Patriots on Monday, December 6, there was talk of giving backup quarterback Mark Brunell more snaps in practice -- and then some. Brunell, whose role has always been portrayed more as a mentor and sounding board for Sanchez, might have taken the youngster's job if things had gone differently.
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Sanchez remembers this turn, and his reaction to it, in the September issue of GQ Magazine:
Writers asked Jets head coach Rex Ryan if he would consider benching Mark Sanchez. Yes, Ryan said—he would. "Rex is super honest," Sanchez says. "I wish he wasn't that honest at times, especially to say that."
Before the next practice, Sanchez was informed that Ryan wanted to give extra reps to Sanchez's backup and friend Mark Brunell. Ominous. Sanchez nodded like a good soldier, but on the practice field, when Brunell walked into the huddle, Sanchez pushed him away. Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer approached. He repeated that Ryan wanted Brunell to take extra reps. "I was like, 'He can come tell me,' " Sanchez says. "And [Schottenheimer] is like, 'Come on, man, don't do that.'"
Eventually the crisis passed. Sanchez held his ground, kept his job, and managed not to alienate his friend. But the episode remains something of a sore point with Sanchez. In a locker room where everything is a laughing matter, Sanchez hasn't yet joked with Ryan about that almost-benching. And he doesn't expect to. "I wanted to fight him," Sanchez says. "I was really mad."
To be fair to Ryan, the Jets were in the middle of a late-season playoff push, and Sanchez played like hot garbage around that time. In a five-game stretch from that Patriots loss through the end of the regular season, Sanchez threw five interceptions and just one touchdown as the Jets went 2-3 after a 9-2 start. Brunell may not have been the answer, but Sanchez still had a lot to prove as a starting quarterback on a perennial playoff team.
Then again, given Ryan's tough-guy persona, it's entirely possible that Sanchez reacted in just the way the Jets wanted him to. And Sanchez did turn things completely around in the postseason, throwing five touchdowns to one interception in three playoff games and looking especially impressive against the Patriots (in the rematch) and Pittsburgh Steelers (in a loss to the eventual AFC champions).
Having cleared the slate, Sanchez now seems to know that he needs to be much more the quarterback everyone saw in the playoffs than the kid the Jets have guided from first-round status in 2009 to his current standing as one of the most-discussed players in pro football. The training wheels are off, and it's time for Sanchez to take hold of his job and all it entails.
Judging from what Sanchez told GQ, he's in the ballpark.
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