By JJ CONRAD
By now, you have all seen the ridiculing tweets, the mocking Facebook posts and the members of the media emphatically praising Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Mark Sanchez’s 332-yard, two-touchdown performance Monday night — each completion serving as a painful reminder of what used to be and what could have been for New York Jets fans.
Nevermind that those same pundits, specifically the New York media and majority of the Jets’ fan base (myself included), were the ones calling for Mark Sanchez’s head as few as two short years ago, when “The Sanchize” was benched in favor of Greg McElroy following a career-high five-turnover performance in a brutal December loss in Tennessee.
The same Greg McElroy who is now out of football altogether and currently spends his weekends calling college games for the SEC Network. Mark Sanchez was benched in favor of that guy… and it was the right move at the time.
The knee-jerk reaction and common narrative around the country after Monday night is now, of course, how pathetic the New York Jets look for allowing this to happen — in a season mired in poor and inconsistent quarterback play from primarily Geno Smith.
(Side note: The backlash other teams around the NFL receive when they let a player go and he proceeds to have success with his new team doesn’t seem nearly as well-chronicled as it is when it involves the Jets, but that’s a story for another day.)
People are now seemingly ignoring the fact that when Mark Sanchez was handed the keys to the Jets’ offense in 2011 — and no longer able to rely on arguably the best defense/best running game combination in the NFL — he could not carry the load.
One year later, Mark Sanchez was considered the worst starting quarterback in the NFL — as a fourth-year pro — after turning the ball over an NFL-high 52 times in a two-year span.
After his fourth year in New York, Sanchez had a career completion percentage of 55.1 percent and a quarterback rating of 77.1 — both ranking among the league’s worst.
How quickly people forget Sanchez’s blatant disregard for ball security, his inability to throw a screen pass (still can’t, by the way), the skittishness he displayed in the pocket anytime even the slightest bit of pressure came his way (much improved Monday night), the tendency to force throws into double-, sometimes triple-coverage and all the multi-turnover games, including too-many-to-count backbreaking interceptions at the most inopportune times.
There were moments when Mark Sanchez would get booed before offensive series’ even started, as if the crowd just knew another dreadful three-and-out was coming during times when it was a struggle to even get a first down. It got that bad.
Right now, the honeymoon is in full swing with Mark Sanchez and Philadelphia, but we’re still talking about Mark Sanchez. As Heisenberg would say, “Tread lightly,” because Bad Sanchez could always be right around the corner.
Example: 2011… Jets are 8-5 and on a three-game winning streak, appearing destined for a third straight playoff berth. In wins over Buffalo, Washington and Kansas City, Sanchez throws seven touchdowns, rushes for two more and throws one interception. Final three games? Three losses, five touchdowns, seven picks… no playoff berth.
After the 2012 season — a year in which the Jets went 6-10 and Sanchez threw 13 touchdowns, 18 interceptions and fumbled 14 times (including one into Brandon Moore’s ass that will forever live in Jets infamy) — the Mark Sanchez Experiment in New York had to end.
Due to an inexplicable contract extension given by former general manager Mike Tannebaum prior to the 2012 season (after the Jets flirted with possibly signing Peyton Manning), the divorce couldn’t become official until the following season for cap reasons (though the Jets are still paying him $4.8 million this season in dead money), but Sanchez’s fate was sealed during that five-turnover night in Tennessee.
The Jets drafted Geno Smith two months later, had a “competition” that summer that wasn’t really a competition (kind of like this year actually) — one that was settled for good when the Giants’ Marvin Austin body slammed Sanchez’s shoulder into the MetLife turf in the fourth quarter of a meaningless August preseason game, forcing Sanchez to need season-ending shoulder surgery (also another story for another day… Rex Ryan publicly saying he was in there to win the Snoopy Bowl).
But back to Monday night, if I learned anything from watching Sanchez tear up the injury-riddled Carolina Panthers’ defense in the Eagles’ 45-21 win — aided greatly by a lights out defense (five turnovers, nine sacks) and superb special teams play (65-yard punt return touchdown) — it’s this: The Jets don’t need Mark Sanchez, they need a Chip Kelly clone and an entire offensive overhaul.
That doesn’t mean I believe Rex Ryan should be fired (I don’t), but the Jets could probably do better than Marty Mornhinweg at offensive coordinator — the same guy who, as head coach of the Lions, once chose the WIND instead of the ball after winning an overtime coin flip (he lost the game after the Bears drove right down the field and kicked the game-winning field goal). But to get any bigtime and coveted offensive-minded coach, the offer might have to be for the head coach position, not coordinator.
Mark Sanchez appears he is going to thrive in Chip Kelly’s extremely quarterback-friendly system in Philadelphia, just as Michael Vick and Nick Foles did before him.
Not to take anything anyway from his performance Monday night, but this is a dream scenario for Sanchez: a fast-paced, up-tempo offense without not many reads, plenty of quick releases, and, most importantly, the best arsenal of weapons that he has ever had around him with Jeremy Maclin, Jordan Matthews, LeSean McCoy, Darren Sprols, Brent Celek, Riley Cooper and Zach Ertz. It’s the anti-Jets offense.
In 2010, the Jets went 11-5 and reached the AFC Championship Game for the second straight year in what was probably Sanchez’s best individual season of his career.
Though still relying heavily on a great defense and strong running game, they had the one of the best offensive lines in football, Santonio Holmes, Braylon Edwards, Jerricho Cotchery and Dustin Keller catching passes and Shonn Greene and LaDainian Tomlinson in the backfield — and the versatile Brad Smith doing a little bit of everything on offense. Mark Sanchez was protected and he had talent around him, exactly the situation he is in now, only it’s significantly better now in Philadelphia.
Two years later, during the nightmarish 2012 season, the offensive line started showing cracks, Chaz Schilens (CHAZ SCHILENS!) was the Jets’ second-most productive wide receiver in terms of receptions, Edwards and Cotchery were gone, Holmes appeared in just four games and Stephen Hill and Clyde Gates were actually relied upon pieces in their dysfunctional and often-times comedic offense.
You can’t knock the Jets for releasing Mark Sanchez prior to this season — it was time to go — but you can knock the Jets for how greatly they mishandled the development of him.
They slowly took away his targets one by one — and failed to adequately replace them — after his first two relatively successful seasons resulted in two AFC Championship Game appearances, they gave him an unwarranted contract extension after 2011 after a career-high 26-turnover season, and they played him late in meaningless preseason games with no-name linemen protecting him in 2012.
Give Mark Sanchez weapons and give him time in the pocket, and he’ll have performances like he did Monday night. Throw in an offensive genius calling the shots and that feel-good bounce back story the media loves so much and, well, now I’m afraid Mark Sanchez is going to lead the Eagles to their first Super Bowl ever… and I’m only half-kidding.
Though still a long way to go, the pieces are falling into place for a Mark Sanchez and the Eagles vs. Darrelle Revis and the Patriots in Super Bowl XLIX — also what would be known as every Jets fan’s worst nightmare.
That, or Nick Foles re-takes his starting spot once he’s recovered from injury, Sanchez becomes a free agent this offseason and re-signs with the quarterback-needy Jets.
Now wouldn’t that be fun?