Commentary

Sanchez steadying influence on Jets

Second-year QB turns in second straight three-TD, no-pick game in victory at Miami

Updated: September 27, 2010, 11:03 AM ET
By Shaun Powell | ESPNNewYork.com

MIAMI -- It must be refreshing for the New York Jets to know that, while the mistakes have certainly piled up these past two turbulent weeks, at least Mark Sanchez has stayed cleaner than Rex Ryan's dinner plate.

Two games, no picks, two wins. Now that's a sign of steady growth and decision-making by a young quarterback bent on having a breakout season. Sanchez is looking more impressive by the throw, and those throws are landing more and more in the right places at the right times.

He sent a pair of lasers to Dustin Keller for touchdowns on Sunday night, then found Braylon Edwards -- he's a hero now, you know -- on a 67-yard game-breaker. That's six touchdown passes in two games. Oh, and one other pass was even more precise than those three, the nose of the football almost piercing the receiver's navel. And it was the worst throw by Sanchez all night.

Mark Sanchez
Marc Serota/Getty ImagesMark Sanchez and the offense took over on a night when the Jets' vaunted defense was vulnerable.

Had blitzing Dolphins defensive end Kendall Langford held on to the potential pick-6 interception late in the fourth quarter, ballgame up for grabs, then maybe we'd be gushing a bit less about Sanchez right now. Good thing for Sanchez, and the Jets, that Langford was all thumbs, making it possible for New York to win 31-23 and take a defiant stand in the AFC East.

Yes, Sanchez got lucky on that one. Still, just look at him the past two games: Poised, beyond his years. Steady in the huddle and the pocket. Making decisions in a hurry, but not in a rush. And giving us a strong feeling the Jets needn't worry about their quarterback for a long, long time.

Are you sold this early, this soon on someone who threw 20 interceptions in an uneven rookie year? You say you need to see more before taking that leap? Well, understand that the hardest thing for any second-year quarterback to overcome, at this tender stage, is a tendency for game-killing mistakes. In that sense, Sanchez has come a long way in a year, and since the opener against the Ravens. Yes, before putting him into Canton, we can all agree on that for now.

"He's been big," tackle Damien Woody said. "He's really in a rhythm right now. He can definitely be one of the better quarterbacks in the game, if he keeps this up. What I like is how he's becoming more of a playmaker. In order for you to win championships in this league, your quarterback must be a playmaker."

The play of the night was a 20-yarder to Edwards on third-and-10 with the Jets holding on to a one-point lead midway through the fourth, while Miami was desperately rallying. It was the kind of composure and throw you don't see too often from young QBs. A year ago, maybe he gets hit by a bolt of panic. Maybe he rushes, and forces the throw, and it lands in the wrong hands. Hey, it did 20 times last season.

Those jitters are gone, and probably for good. Sure, the Dolphins were perhaps the most bogus 2-0 team in football before kickoff. Still, it was a road game against a decent team. And with the Jets' secondary making Chad Henne look like Dan Marino, Sanchez was pressed to keep moving the ball and looking to score.

"I figured if we eliminate some of those interceptions from last year, we'd win more games," Sanchez said. "That's what I set out to do in the offseason, to eliminate those and stop them from hurting our team."

And with Edwards limited to three quarters of playing time, his punishment in the wake of a DWI charge, Sanchez looked early and often to Keller. Their relationship on the field is something to behold. Keller has become a security blanket for Sanchez, who said, "He and I have grown up together, in a sense. He's fun to throw to."

All told, 256 yards passing and a smooth flow all night made for another winning weekend for Sanchez. What we saw against the Patriots last week wasn't a stroke of fortune. Sanchez has completed 36-of-58 these two weeks, six for touchdowns, and then there's the all-important no interceptions. Actually, no interceptions in his past 79 passes.

"I expect that out of Mark, and more important, he expects that out of himself," LaDainian Tomlinson said. "Mark's done a good job of not putting us in bad situations."

Keller: "He gets in that huddle and not only is he calm, he calms other guys down. That's what you want to see in a young quarterback. I can't say enough about how well Mark's been playing. Awesome."

The Jets have been able to overcome the distractions and injuries in large part because of Sanchez. Game by game, throw by throw, Sanchez is building himself a reputation and a foundation. He's a mobile quarterback who's also learning how to win with his arm and his decision-making. He's doing things we didn't see often last season (except for 12-of-15, no picks against the Bengals in the playoffs), stuff he couldn't do against the Ravens in the opener.

"He's just letting his talent take over," Jerricho Cotchery said. "He's going in the right direction."

The Jets can't help but to follow.

Shaun Powell is a contributor to ESPNNewYork.com.

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Shaun Powell

ESPNNewYork.com
Shaun Powell is a former sports general columnist and NBA beat columnist for Newsday. He will contribute to ESPNNewYork.com with commentary related to NY area sports.

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