Commentary

Sanchez, Stafford to meet up in Motown

Prized picks of 2009 NFL draft will battle for first time as Jets face Lions on road

Updated: November 4, 2010, 9:37 AM ET
By Rich Cimini | ESPNNewYork.com

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Matthew Stafford has "Megatron." Mark Sanchez has mega targets.

Aside from draft pedigree, Stafford and Sanchez -- the top quarterbacks in the Class of '09 -- don't have many similarities. They have different styles and different sets of challenges.

Stafford is trying to revive the once-moribund Detroit Lions, with help from perhaps the NFL's top young receiver, Calvin Johnson, nicknamed after the "Transformers" character because of his freakish ability.

Sanchez is leading a Super Bowl-or-bust mission with the New York Jets, trying to fight his way out of a mini slump that could be attributed to his equal-opportunity ways. He's surrounded by a talented and diverse cast, and that, some believe, could be causing him to press, trying to make sure he keeps everybody happy.

That, Sanchez said Wednesday, is hogwash.

[+] EnlargeMatthew Stafford & Mark Sanchez
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesMatthew Stafford and Mark Sanchez were rivals heading into the 2009 NFL draft.

"Really, it doesn't even matter who the guys are," said Sanchez, who will face Stafford for the first time Sunday in Detroit. "They shouldn't even wear numbers. [They should] wear a dark visor like LT [LaDainian Tomlinson] so I can't even see them. It wouldn't matter because I'm not looking for a specific guy."

Sanchez wants to have a point guard mentality, and his job is about "getting as many assists as possible. ... We're not counting [catches]. We're not making tally marks, and nobody has to hit a certain number of catches. It's catch by committee. It doesn't matter."

His numbers have dropped significantly over the past three games, when Santonio Holmes returned from a suspension and joined Braylon Edwards, Jerricho Cotchery and Dustin Keller in the receiving corps. Since then, the catches have been spread relatively evenly (seven to 13 catches apiece), but the offense has screeched to a stop.

The low point was this past Sunday's 9-0 loss at home to the Green Bay Packers.

"A lot of that was my fault," said Sanchez, who completed only 16 of 38 passes for 256 yards and two interceptions.

Sanchez was undermined by eight or nine drops, by Rex Ryan's count, but he second-guessed himself for not running when there were opportunities and failing to spot a wide-open Edwards in the end zone late in the game. That would have been a 35-yard, go-ahead touchdown pass.

"Seth Ryan could've made that throw," Sanchez said, a joking reference to his coach's young son.

Sanchez, who has gone three straight games with a passer rating less than 60.2, will look to redeem himself against his one-time rival. He acknowledged a competition with Stafford as they prepared for the '09 draft, trying to impress pro scouts at the combine and personal workouts.

The Lions, picking first overall, settled on Stafford before draft day. The Jets traded up for Sanchez, selecting him fifth. Sanchez is 13-9 as a starter, plus 2-1 in the playoffs. Stafford, plagued by injuries, is 3-9 -- but he's coming off a four-touchdown performance.

The Jets did their homework on Stafford, even brought him to their facility before the draft. Ryan refused to say which quarterback was rated higher on the Jets' draft board, although his non-answer suggested it was Stafford.

"We knew he had a ton of talent, probably as much arm talent as any quarterback has had in a long time," Ryan said. "All precincts reported. We thought he was an outstanding prospect."

The consensus among scouts is that Stafford has the better arm, with Sanchez rating an edge in athleticism and intangibles, namely leadership.

"There was a magic to him," one general manager said, speaking on the condition of anonymity. "I think more people were intrigued with Sanchez. If you polled everybody [in the league], I think they would've taken Sanchez over Stafford."

The Washington Redskins were in the market for a quarterback, studied both closely and preferred Sanchez over Stafford, according to former team executive Vinny Cerrato. The Redskins tried to trade up for Sanchez after falling hard for him during three separate interviews over dinner.

"He was great, awesome, off the charts," said Cerrato, an analyst for 1050 ESPN New York radio. "People were enamored with Stafford's arm, and he had played and won more than Mark. In that respect, Mark was a little bit more of a gamble, but we fell in love with him."

Cerrato and Redskins owner Daniel Snyder dined in Los Angeles with Sanchez and some of his USC teammates, linebackers Clay Matthews, Brian Cushing and Rey Maualuga, and they were blown away by the way the players interacted with the quarterback.

At another dinner, this time at a posh Italian restaurant in Washington, D.C., Cerrato recalled a funny scene in which a woman came up behind Sanchez and ran her fingers through his hair.

"You have beautiful hair," she told him.

The table was a bit taken aback. So was Sanchez.

"But he was calm and cool," Cerrato said.

Sanchez will need that quality Sunday at Ford Field, where the Lions are 2-1 and average 37 points per game. The Jets can't afford another bad day from their franchise quarterback.

"It's important not to make one bad game a stretch of bad games," Sanchez said. "That's the trap you fall into as a rookie. Things are going bad, and they get worse. Well, now, things went bad on Sunday, and it's time to make them better. That's what I'm planning on doing."

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

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Rich Cimini

ESPN New York Jets reporter

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