Humbled by the offensive talent he commands, Mark Sanchez is evolving into a resilient quarterback.
Sanchez, who turned 24 last week, has matched his passing touchdown total from a year ago (12) and while leading the Jets (7-2) to their best start in franchise history.
Joined by tight end Dustin Keller this week to promote Ubisoft's new "Your Shape: Fitness Evolved" game for the Xbox 360 Kinect, Sanchez spoke with amNewYork about the importance of progress as part of coach Rex Ryan’s championship formula.
How do you identify yourself as a quarterback? Sanchez: I just want to be a winning quarterback, that’s the most important thing. Whether it’s throwing, running or fighting through a tough injury, I want to be the quarterback our team needs.
How did your first career 300-yard game two weeks ago in Detroit feel? Sanchez: We almost had two in a row [against Cleveland]. That makes me mad. (Laughs.) [In Detroit] we were planning on running all game, but it didn’t go quite as planned. We still ran deceptively well, but when I needed to throw, we aired it out.
What’s the vibe like after two hard-fought victories? Keller: We feel good, especially after finding out that two consecutive overtime victories on the road was an NFL record. That’s really cool to think about. We have a long way to go and we can get better, but the more we win close games, the more we feel it’s the sign of a championship team.
Was there ever any panic against Cleveland? Keller: There wasn’t any panic. We got frustrated having the lead and then going to overtime, but I think the character of this team is so great that we can bounce back from things like that.
How’s the calf feeling after the Browns game? Sanchez: It’s a lot better. As long as it wasn’t a knee injury, or any ligament damage, I knew it was going to be fine as soon as the doctor said it was a muscle. I was twisted up pretty good, but once I bounced back in, it felt good.
Were you fighting through pain in the pocket? Or did it subside? Sanchez: Yeah, but the doctors helped with that, too. Whatever it takes to be out there with the guys is what I’m thinking about.
Was your elusiveness against Cleveland instinctive or practiced? Sanchez: It’s actually something we’ve practiced quite a bit. [Quarterbacks] coach [Matt] Cavanaugh, [offensive] coach [Brian] Schottenheimer, and [backup quarterback] Mark Brunell brought foam bats to practice, and they hit me as I dropped back. They’re hitting me on my arms and legs while I’m going through my progressions to give me the feel of guys rushing by me. It’s helped to learn the difference between the pocket collapsing and just pocket pressure.
Would these plays have ended in sacks a year ago? Sanchez: I believe so. Taking care of the ball in the pocket has been big, too. Being able to step up and remain a passer on the run are all things that have shown up on game film in the last two weeks because of our preparation.
How does Sanchez’s mobility change your route running? Keller: It helps out because Mark’s the type of quarterback that still throws the ball well on the move. As long as we’re on the same page with our scramble rules and he knows where we’re going to be if he scrambles right or left, big plays can be made.
Do you feel teams are doing more to neutralize you, or is Sanchez going through his progressions longer? Keller: [In Cleveland], they had a guy bump me off the line, then a linebacker would bump me, and then there’s a safety over the top, so they definitely tried to take me out of the game. The great thing about our team is that we have so many weapons. We have from three to five options, and Mark’s doing a good job of reading what defenses are giving us and then finding the right guy.
Do you feel more pressure to elevate your game with so much experience around you? Sanchez: I put a lot of pressure on myself, but seeing future Hall of Famers in the locker room like LaDainian Tomlinson and Jason Taylor definitely gives me added motivation to lead those guys. To know that I’m in charge and it’s my job to get the best out of them each game, it means the world to me. These are guys whose posters I had in my room and now we’re on the same team. I’m telling LT what routes to run; it blows my mind. We’re in season mode, so I can’t really think about it too much, but I’ll look back on it one day and be more proud than I am now.
If you could have back any play this season, which would you pick? Sanchez: I’d say the one against the [Green Bay] Packers where I missed Braylon Edwards in the end zone. He was waiting for the ball and I just missed it. That would’ve changed the game; it could’ve put the score in our favor, and we probably could’ve won it from there.
How good can the Jets be when firing on all cylinders? Keller: It’s going to be huge. The day when we’re all playing really good football is going to be ugly for whoever we’re playing. When one unit’s down and the other two pick it up, that’s a sign of a championship team. We have so many weapons on both sides of the ball and special teams do a great job, it’s going to be scary when we play that complete game.