Mark Sanchez #3 of the Philadelphia Eagles looks for a...

Mark Sanchez #3 of the Philadelphia Eagles looks for a receiver in the second quarter of a game against the Houston Texans at Reliant Stadium on Nov. 2, 2014 in Houston. Credit: Getty Images / Bob Levey

No matter what else happens the rest of his career, the play will forever be associated with Mark Sanchez. Whether he likes it or not, "butt fumble'' is a part of his legacy.

But as far as Eagles coach Chip Kelly is concerned, the play that has come to symbolize Sanchez's ill-fated tenure with the Jets is and has always been a complete non-factor.

The Thanksgiving night blunder against the Patriots in 2012, when Sanchez fumbled after running into guard Brandon Moore's backside, was the furthest thing from Kelly's mind when he considered Sanchez for the vacant backup quarterback position after the Eagles released Michael Vick. So were the rest of the struggles Sanchez endured in his final years with the Jets.

"We don't pay attention to any of that,'' Kelly said. "Whether somebody got heat or didn't get heat, we don't get involved in any of that stuff.''

Forget the "butt fumble'' or any other misfortune that befell Sanchez. Kelly looked at something else when deciding on him.

"I look at his skill set,'' Kelly said. "I look at his feet. I look at his mechanics. I look at how he throws the football. I look at how he can escape a rush. I look at all the physical aspects of it, and then we do our work in terms of who's coached him and who talked to him, what was he like, what's he like in the meeting room, what's his work ethic like, how does he study film, how does he do all these things?''

The process involved more than just examining his play in five seasons with the Jets. Much more.

"We went all the way back to researching his high school coaches, who I know very well, like what was he like when you had him?'' Kelly said.

Kelly's conviction on San- chez -- who now is his starting quarterback in the injury-related absence of Nick Foles (broken collarbone) -- goes back long before Sanchez set foot on the field for the Jets as the No. 5 overall pick in 2009. Even before he threw his first pass at USC for then-coach Pete Carroll.

Kelly actually attempted to recruit Sanchez from Mission Viejo High in Southern California to the University of New Hampshire, where Kelly was the offensive coordinator. San- chez had loftier expectations and wound up playing for Carroll at USC. Kelly eventually moved on to become the wildly successful coach at Oregon before taking over in Philadelphia in 2013.

So it was no surprise that Kelly chose Sanchez to back up Foles. It's a natural fit for Sanchez, too. With no starting jobs available when he was released by the Jets, he opted to take a step back and join Kelly as the first step toward rehabilitating his career.

His chance has come sooner than expected. Foles was injured in the first half of last week's game against the Texans, and Sanchez responded with a solid relief performance in a 31-21 win. Sanchez was 15-for-22 for 202 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. He'll be the starter for at least the next month . . . and possibly longer.

With Foles struggling with interceptions before his injury, there has been some speculation that Kelly was looking to move on with Sanchez anyway. Kelly vigorously denies that, but the coach's thinking could be influenced based on how well Sanchez plays. Remember, Kelly started last year with Vick as his No. 1 quarterback, but after Foles played brilliantly in Vick's injury-related absence, Kelly stuck with Foles the rest of the season.

Sanchez, who missed the entire 2013 season with a shoulder injury suffered in a preseason game against the Giants, won't think that far ahead, but he does relish the chance to play again. And he'll use his experience with the Jets as a reservoir of information. Yes, even the bad stuff can help him moving forward.

Sanchez said he had a chance this season to "get a bird's-eye view of everything, put that New York experience in its place and take with me a lot of the things that went well, improve upon the things that didn't go so well. So now, hopefully I'm a better version of myself.''

His first test as a starter comes Monday night at home against the Panthers. It'll be only his second prime-time appearance since . . . the "butt fumble'' game.

Not to worry, Sanchez says. "I feel comfortable with everything we've been doing,'' he said.

If there's anything Sanchez has taken from his days with the Jets, it's not to force things. He pointed to a play against the Texans as evidence that he's learning.

"Right before halftime, J.J. Watt came through and I tried to escape him,'' Sanchez said. "I'd been in that situation a bunch, where the ball's flailing around, and it gets knocked out of your hand [when] you try to throw it at that last second.

"I literally just dropped to the ground. I mean, that hurts. As a competitor, that hurts. It [stinks], it's not fun. But I knew we had a field goal in the bag. And I knew Parkey's been money. So let's not squander an opportunity to get points, go into halftime up 17-14 and see where this game takes us.

"I think in the past, I might have tried to make a play, tried to do too much, tried to push a little too hard. That's where you turn over the ball on the fast break.''

Sanchez understands he now has the chance to put together a quality string of performances and get in the mix for a starting job next year. While a return to the Jets is next to impossible -- both sides were ready to move on after last season -- the lack of quality starters around the league could give him an opportunity.

Sanchez insists he's thinking only of the here and now.

"As far as next week, next season, I'm really not worried about it,'' he said. "I promise you I'm focused on Carolina. I got plenty on my mind this week.''

As far as Sanchez is concerned, he couldn't be in a better spot. Or a better offense.

"I've always enjoyed no-huddle tempo,'' he said. "Some of my best play in New York was in that format. Get the next play and go. It feels like a fast break in basketball. You're the point guard, just dish it to the open guy. Don't hang on to it too long, try not to get hit. That's pretty much the name of the game.''

It all fits. Now he needs to make it work. A nationwide audience will tune in for the first start as Sanchez looks to produce some memorable plays. He hopes they won't look like the one on Thanksgiving night two years ago.


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