Mark Sanchez makes strong statement about his ability to bounce back
Mark Sanchez could never have known that one of the defining characteristics of his NFL career would be an ability to deal with adversity. Mostly because he'd never really had to before.
Star quarterback at Mission Viejo (Calif.) High, where he lost only once in 28 games. Went 12-1 in his only full year as the USC starter in 2008, winning the Rose Bowl with a four-touchdown performance and a quarterback rating of 216.8. Didn't know a rating could even get that high.
So he really never figured that picking himself up, dusting himself off and rallying from some of his worst performances would turn out to be his signature attribute.
Here he was again, looking as if he might be out of chances as the Jets staggered to a 3-6 start and responding with one of the most impressive and important performances of his career.
The numbers weren't necessarily all that gaudy -- 15-for-20 for 178 yards and a touchdown. But after what we'd seen from Sanchez in his previous two games, not to mention too many other points in a season that was threatening to spin out of control, this was as close to perfection as you'd want from him.
OK, so the opponent was a Rams team with its own share of problems. But that team nearly upset the 49ers on the road a week earlier, looking as if it might be ready to take the next step in a massive rebuilding project for new coach Jeff Fisher.
So give credit where it's due. Sanchez gathered himself at a time when a loss might have proved his team's undoing, and perhaps even his own.
"I never experienced that kind of adversity," Sanchez said afterward. "At USC, in high school, we just won a lot. When things go sour and south, and nobody believes in you, that's when you're tested. In some of our toughest times, we end up playing some of our best football. It's a fast way to lose your hair and turn your hair gray. But whatever it takes to win, we gotta get wins."
It has been that way though most of Sanchez's career. When he was a rookie in 2009, the Jets didn't appear playoff-bound at 4-6, but they won five of their next six and went all the way to the AFC Championship Game. A year later, Sanchez and the Jets reached the AFC title game again.
But last year's late-season meltdown went against the trend line, setting off doubts about whether Sanchez could take the next step in his development. And his recent struggles did little to provide a positive answer about whether the Jets can count on him long-term.
Of course, there still are doubts, even after what happened on Sunday.
The only way he can definitively state that he should continue as the Jets' long-term starter is by producing a more consistent performance level for the remainder of the season. But he was sufficiently encouraged by Sunday's results to at least give himself a chance.
"I think this team can really turn it around," he said. "We showed we can handle pressure situations before. We showed we can play well on the road, at home. Now we just have to keep building off it."
The Jets will keep building off it if they use the blueprint from this game. You couldn't have asked for a more Rex Ryan-esque path to victory. Run the ball (they did so 41 times), don't turn the ball over (they didn't) and play great defense (they held the Rams to 281 total yards and 5-for-16 on third-down conversions).
It's a lot easier to play efficiently as a quarterback when those things are going on around you. And Sanchez did just that, not forcing the ball into bad situations, taking the checkdowns when he had to and finding the open receiver better than he had in weeks.
His 25-yard touchdown pass to Chaz Schilens in the second quarter was a thing of beauty. And a 32-yarder to Jeremy Kerley late in the first half set up a field goal that gave the Jets a 13-7 lead.
A very good job from the quarterback. But there's much more to be done.
Sanchez is the first to admit it.
"It's one game," he said. "We've got to keep this thing in perspective. You really take the positives, build on those, continue to get better and improve."
At 4-6, there still is a long way to go. But at least there's a chance.