Jets' playoff hopes hinge on Mark Sanchez

Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez on the sidelines during Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez on the sidelines during a 35-9 win over the Colts at MetLife Stadium. (Oct. 14, 2012) Photo Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan

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Kimberley A. Martin Newsday sports reporter Kimberley A. Martin

Since joining Newsday in November 2007, Kimberley A. Martin has covered everything from local news to high school ...

Rex Ryan said this could be his best team ever. Now the Jets have eight games to prove him right. But to do so, Mark Sanchez must be better than he has ever been.

It's clear the Jets have stunted the fourth-year quarterback's growth by dismantling the teams that reached the AFC Championship Game after the 2009 and 2010 seasons, disrupting the style of play that led to those playoff runs.

But when the Jets had the chance to search for answers elsewhere, they stuck with Sanchez . . . all the way to a 3-5 record. Now it's time for him to prove to the front office -- and to the fan base -- that he was worth the fifth overall draft pick in 2009, the March contract extension and, most of all, his starting job.

As they lost four of five games, including a 34-0 home defeat against the 49ers, Tim Tebow stood anxiously on the sideline. If the Jets truly have faith in Tebow's ability, the backup quarterback will see more playing time in the second half. But to make the playoffs, Sanchez must be the one to lead them.

He already has proved he can handle the spotlight, orchestrating 10 fourth-quarter comebacks and 12 game-winning drives in his career, according to ProFootballReference.com, and four playoff victories in six tries. But with limited offensive weapons this season, Sanchez hasn't had many opportunities to be a consistent leader and playmaker.