Mark Sanchez has made great strides

9/30/2010 - NFL Mark Sanchez New York Jets + more

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- In two career starts against the Buffalo Bills, Mark Sanchez's scorecard reads like this:

Injured knee, battered psyche.

The New York Jets' quarterback sprained his right knee in December on his infamous non-slide, a few days after receiving a sliding tutorial from New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi, but it was his first start against the Bills -- in October -- that provided the low point of his rookie season.

On a bitterly cold day at the Meadowlands, Sanchez threw five interceptions and was so devastated that he appeared on the verge of tears. It was his welcome-to-the-NFL moment, a relevant point of reference this week because the Jets (2-1) are preparing to face the Bills (0-3) on the road.

And because Sanchez, coming off the two best passing performances of his short career, bears absolutely no resemblance to that rattled rookie who was so lost that a GPS couldn't have saved him.

"It was like my dog died," Sanchez said Wednesday. "It was the worst."

The Jets can laugh about it now because Sanchez is performing like the quarterback they thought he'd be. He has six touchdown passes in the past two games -- half his 2009 total -- and has yet to throw an interception in 79 attempts. In the Buffalo nightmare, he had half as many interceptions as completions.

It was so bad that Sanchez, his voice cracking afterward, said he was embarrassed by his performance. So bad that Jets coach Rex Ryan admitted he considered pulling him. The feeling now?

"After two or three of those things," Ryan said, referring to the interceptions, "it was like, 'Oh, no' every time he threw. Nobody feels that way now. Everybody feels like we're going to make a play."

Sanchez relived his five-interception mess in the offseason as part of his intensive study sessions with offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, who made a DVD of every interception from 2009 -- all 20 of them.

The video seemed as long as "Avatar." Sanchez joked that the DVD was "way too long for anybody," but he and Schottenheimer studied the contents and determined that 12 of the 20 were due to bad decisions.

This season, Sanchez's goal was to slash the interception total in half. He got away with a couple of near-picks Sunday night in Miami, but it's clear that his decision-making has improved. So has his accuracy on short and intermediate routes, his ability to handle the blitz, and his willingness to find his check-down receivers.

"This is who he is," Ryan said. "He's having the kind of year we expected."

Things are going so well that Sanchez is actually fighting overconfidence. The same could be said of the entire offensive unit, which has produced 59 points in back-to-back wins.

"My line to people around the building is, 'Every trash can gets a steak,'" Sanchez said. "I don't want to buy into it. I don't want to take the cheese."

A year ago, Sanchez felt like garbage after the Buffalo game, so vulnerable that people in the organization were concerned about his head. The coaches handled him with kid gloves. Looking back, Sanchez said it was the right approach because "a rookie quarterback can get crushed if they don't handle it the right way."

Sanchez never will forget the day after that game. He looked into his locker and discovered a note from GM Mike Tannenbaum, who listed quarterbacks that threw four or more interceptions in a game -- Dan Marino, Brett Favre, Troy Aikman, Joe Namath, Steve Young.

The young quarterback appreciated the gesture.

"It was like, 'Your life isn't over,'" Sanchez said. "Even though it felt like it at the time."

Rich Cimini covers the Jets for ESPNNewYork.com. Follow him on Twitter.

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