Commentary

Teammates lift Mark Sanchez in win

Despite rough stretch for Jets QB, rest of Gang says it never lost faith

Updated: December 20, 2010, 3:48 AM ET
By Jane McManus | ESPNNewYork.com

PITTSBURGH -- After the game, Mark Sanchez was so subdued you might have had a hard time believing the Jets had won the game at Heinz Field, 22-17, after a commanding performance from their embattled sophomore quarterback.

When asked how good it felt to win after what must have been one of the worst weeks of his football career, Sanchez didn't want it to be about him and played down the personal significance of the win.

Mark Sanchez
Karl Walter/Getty ImagesMark Sanchez's mates helped carry him through a tough couple of weeks.

"It feels just as good as every win we've had," Sanchez said. "We wanted to get to 10 wins this week. That was our goal and I was really proud of the guys rallying especially on offense. So it feels good. I'm proud of our guys."

Although Sanchez may have said this week was no different, his teammates told a different story, starting with running back LaDainian Tomlinson, who relayed what Sanchez said to his teammates on Monday.

"It's obviously been a tough couple weeks for Mark," Tomlinson said. "He stood up in that huddle and said, 'I'm going to play better, I'm not going to continue to turn the ball over.' He had a look in his eyes, you had to believe the guy. When your quarterback stands up in front of you and delivers a message like that and you can feel it, I knew he was going to play good."

And Sanchez did play well. He ran in the ball from 7 yards on a bootleg play to the left as the rest of the offense went right, for the Jets' first offensive touchdown in three games.

"He was so easygoing, which I think allowed him to play a lot better," Braylon Edwards said.

Sanchez got the first down on a fourth-and-1. And he hit his receivers so well that Dustin Keller said passes felt like a 20-yard handoff.

"We knew coming out of the break that the ball was going to be right where it needed to be," Keller said.

In the end, Sanchez completed 19 of 29 passes for 170 yards and a 81.1 passer rating, a couple notches better than Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's 78.2. He also ran the ball three times for 15 yards.

"He believed," Santonio Holmes said. "He had been down -- hearing it from the fans, hearing it from the media, hearing it from his coaches, but us as players, we kept his spirits up all week and I continued to keep telling [him], 'Just believe you got guys that you can trust. Just get us the ball. We're going to make it happen for you. And you just go out there and have fun,' and I saw him having fun today."

This was a week after coach Rex Ryan admitted he had considered putting in No. 2 quarterback Mark Brunell during a loss to Miami. Matt Slauson said it wasn't so much that the Jets needed to see a decisive performance out of Sanchez, but that the quarterback needed it for himself.

"It was big," Slauson said. "But you know we never lost confidence in him. We knew he could do it. I think it was more important for him to see it."

It comes at just the right time. The Jets are heading to Chicago with playoff aspirations, and the win over Pittsburgh means the team won't have to do as much scoreboard watching on game day.

"For him to have this type of game against a team like this -- the real deal, the Pittsburgh Steelers -- [and] a game like this against them on the road," Edwards said, "this is definitely a good stepping stone for him to move towards the playoffs."

Jane McManus is a columnist for ESPNNewYork.com. Follow her on Twitter.

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Jane McManus has covered New York sports since 1998 and began covering football just before Brett Favre's stint with the Jets. Her work has appeared in Newsday, USA Today, The Journal News and The New York Times. Follow Jane on Twitter.

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