Struggling Mark Sanchez knows he must step up

Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez looks up from the

Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez looks up from the sidelines during the second half of a game against the Miami Dolphins. (Sept. 23, 2012) (Credit: AP)

Mark Sanchez repeatedly has told us this is his team. Well now, more than ever, he must prove it.

The margin for error has slimmed considerably for the fourth-year quarterback now that the Jets' defense is no longer what it used to be. The loss of Darrelle Revis to a season-ending ACL injury will reveal the true depth and character of Rex Ryan's roster.

And, most of all, Sanchez.

Some considered the Jets' playoff chances slim to none after their 0-4 preseason. But they are in first place (thanks to a tiebreaker with Buffalo) in the AFC East at 2-1 and surprisingly ahead of perennial favorite New England. But to stay atop the division, the quarterback must prove his inconsistency will not hinder them.

Sanchez is dead-last in completion percentage (50.5) among starters, meaning rookies Robert Griffin III (67.4), Russell Wilson (57.3), Brandon Weeden (56.5) Andrew Luck (53.3) and Ryan Tannehill (52.9) have fared better.

Of course, Sanchez's receivers have done him no favors. Aside from their Week 1 blowout of the Bills, the wideouts consistently have had trouble getting open and, worse, holding onto the ball. Sanchez didn't complete a pass to a wide receiver in the second or third quarter in the 27-10 loss in Pittsburgh, and although Santonio Holmes (147 yards, nine catches) had a breakout day in Miami, no other Jets wideout had more than two receptions. And then there are the egregious drops, such as Stephen Hill's on what would have been an easy touchdown against Miami.

After converting 10 of 14 third downs (71.4 percent) in Week 1, the Jets were 10-for-29 (34.5 percent) against Pittsburgh (4 of 12) and Miami (6 of 17).

So the offense must do better. And so must Sanchez. By no means should the responsibility fall on the shoulders of the quarterback alone. But it will, just by virtue of the position.

Sanchez said Monday his play has to improve, citing his first-quarter interception in Miami that led to a 7-0 hole for the Jets.

"That ball shouldn't have left my hand," Sanchez said on an afternoon radio spot. "It was a busted route and you can't reward the wrong route and compound a negative with a negative. And that's something coach [Tony] Sparano has talked to me about, that's something I know better. So that decision can't be made.

"I've just got to hold myself to a higher standard. I need to play well for us to win."

But for all his struggles the past two games, Sanchez came through when it counted against the Dolphins, hitting Holmes for a 38-yard completion in overtime to set up Nick Folk's winning field goal.

Some may use Sanchez's passer ratings this season -- 123.4, 66.6, 58.2 -- as proof he's just an average quarterback, but his position coach, Matt Cavanaugh, focuses on a different stat: wins.

"If you want to get really analytical, you can say, 'Well, if he's completing more balls, you win more games.' Of course," Cavanaugh said last week, adding that he reminds Sanchez of what's ultimately important.

"Just win, Mark, just find a way to win and everybody will recognize you as a great quarterback.' Because there have been a lot of great quarterbacks who didn't complete 70 percent of their passes but won championships, and that's what this game's about.''

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