Monday, October 19, 2009

Fans need to show Sanchez patience

It’s easy to fall in love with a mirage, because what you think you see in front of you with 20/20 clarity isn’t necessarily what you end up having when you cut to its core. No better example of that is Mark Sanchez, the rookie quarterback for the New York Jets. Three weeks ago, their fans were christening Sanchez as the second coming of Joe Namath, an icon in the Big Apple. Sanchez was the city's newest golden boy, a ready-for-the-pros passer with the Southern Cal pedigree. His play had taken the Jets to the summit of their division and made their fans forget the Bret Favre era. How handsome does the Favre era look today? Sanchez is now coming off three nightmarish performances, the kind that might make the film “Paranormal Activity” look G rated. His most recent start was one that only reminds NFL fans of the difficulty involved in jumping from the college game to the pros. The transition, however, has never been altogether seamless, a fact Sanchez discovered the hard way after a 16-13 loss Sunday to the Bills. He deserved the blame for it. Some people might not think it fair to saddle Sanchez with this loss. One player shouldn’t be blamed for what wrong against the Bills; other Jets must share the blame – a giant piece of it. But people can’t have it two ways. If they want to credit Sanchez for a 3-0 start, they have to cite his play for the team's 3-3 record today. Surely, they have little choice but to do so in the loss Sunday. For he never found answers to the defensive schemes the Bills threw in front of him. Under pressure time and again, Sanchez hurried his passes (10 of 29 for 119 yards) and missed open receivers throughout the game. At game’s end, he had thrown five interceptions, the last of which led to a game-winning field goal in overtime. Sanchez had a game that should lead to restless nights. He’ll see Bills dancing in his dreams for the rest of this week – and maybe next week, too. It would be hard to forget five interceptions. After a game like this, Sanchez has to harbor doubts. So must Jets fans. Their euphoria has been tempered. They must look at Sanchez for what he is: a work in progress. Few quarterbacks can step off a college campus and into a starting job in the NFL. Some men need years to transition into a polished product. Just ask Brady Quinn, J.P. Losman, Tim Couch, Vince Young, Kyle Boller, Rex Grossman, Byron Leftwich, Alex Smith, Matt Leinart or Joey Harrington. They all entered the NFL with much fanfare, but their careers have been unimpressive, more the careers of a journeyman than of a No. 1 pick. Their struggles offer sage lessons. A strong arm doesn’t ensure a distinguished career. Playing quarterback in the NFL is a mind game as much as anything else. It demands a quarterback have the ability to read defenses, to think on his feet and to remain cool in the face of pressure – from opposing linemen and from critics. Sanchez will be hearing plenty from the critics this week, as all quarterbacks do after a lousy performance. Think this is journalistic hyperbole? Well, just listen to the howls coming out of Philadelphia after Donovan McNabb’s horrible display Sunday against the then winless Oakland Raiders. Rex Ryan, a first-year head coach, is unlikely to bench Sanchez. But if Ryan had expected according-to-Hoyle performances from his rookie each week, he was asking for miracles. He will have to show more patience with his gifted pupil than Jets fans will. For Ryan must believe that all the good things Sanchez did in his first three starts weren’t illusions but snapshots of what he can do with more experience.


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