Mark Sanchez thriving with Eagles -- no ifs, ands or butts
It's bad enough being a Jets fan and having to slog through a 2-10 season and all of the disappointment that goes with it. What makes it even worse: seeing former Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez, once the face of the franchise and the source of so much hope with two straight AFC Championship Game appearances, playing better in Philadelphia than at almost any time in his five-year run with the Jets.
As Geno Smith tries to take his next uncertain steps in a career already tinged with regression and disappointment, Sanchez is running Chip Kelly's offense with the kind of command and authority that the Jets once envisioned when they traded up to get him with the fifth overall pick in 2009.
A terrific defense and strong running game helped Sanchez to early success with the Jets, but the wheels eventually came off and led to his inevitable departure after last season.
Who knew he would show the Jets this quickly what they were missing? In what turned out to be essentially a trade of Sanchez for Eagles backup quarterback Michael Vick, it's Philly that came away the big winner.
While Vick never has been viewed by the Jets' coaches as a viable starter this season and the race was rigged in favor of Smith, Sanchez quietly bided his time with the Eagles. He struggled early with Kelly's up-tempo offense but eventually became comfortable with the system's nuances and was ready when called upon to replace the injured Nick Foles last month.
Sanchez is 3-1 as a starter and also went most of the way in a win over the Texans in which Foles suffered a broken collarbone. With Foles still not fully healed, and with only four regular-season games left, it looks as if Sanchez will go the rest of the way for the Eagles (9-3), who lead the Cowboys by a half-game in the NFC East.
Sanchez will take center stage again on Sunday when the Eagles host the defending Super Bowl champion Seahawks in a potential preview of the NFC Championship Game.
Sorry, Jets fans. But you have to give Sanchez credit for what he has done, especially after three increasingly frustrating seasons preceding his departure from the Jets.
After the exhilarating runs to the conference championship game in his first two seasons, Sanchez was beset by a roster weakened by salary-cap issues and poor draft picks, then by the ill-fated decision to bring in Tim Tebow as his backup in 2012.
A year later, the Jets drafted Smith and put him in a competition with Sanchez in training camp -- a duel that Sanchez appeared to win, if for no other reason than Smith didn't look ready.
Then came the ridiculous move by Rex Ryan to put Sanchez back into the game in the fourth quarter against the Giants -- behind a backup offensive line in the third preseason game. Sanchez went out with a shoulder injury and eventually needed surgery, his Jets career all but over.
But that didn't mean his NFL career was over.
What a great move by Kelly -- who actually scouted Sanchez in high school when Kelly was the New Hampshire offensive coordinator -- to get the former USC quarterback as Foles' backup. Kelly looked past Sanchez's nightmare ending with the Jets -- including the infamous "butt fumble" against the Patriots on Thanksgiving night in 2012 -- and instead looked at his skill set. What he saw was someone who could run Kelly's fast-paced offense, which focuses on getting rid of the ball quickly and into the hands of his playmakers.
Sanchez has responded with some of the best numbers of his career. He's completing 63.4 percent of his passes -- compared with 55.1 as a Jet -- and has eight touchdown passes and a rushing TD.
Sanchez hasn't gotten away from his problem with turnovers, though. He has six interceptions and three lost fumbles.
Don't be surprised if there are a few more turnovers against the Seahawks, whose defense features All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman and linebacker Bobby Wagner. After an uneven start, the Seahawks' defense is starting to resemble the "Legion of Boom" unit that led Seattle to last year's Super Bowl title.
Don't forget, too, that Seahawks coach Pete Carroll knows Sanchez, including his weaknesses, more than most. Carroll recruited Sanchez to USC and won the Rose Bowl with him before Sanchez jumped to the NFL, ignoring Carroll's advice.
Nearly six years later, no hard feelings.
"We just disagreed, and it became something bigger than it really was," Sanchez said of forgoing his remaining NCAA eligibility for the draft. "We disagreed over a lot of stuff over the years. And friends do that. That's fine. There's nothing wrong with that. There were never any hard feelings. He didn't wish me ill will or hope I played poorly or anything like that. He just expressed his opinion. I had made up my mind and knew what I wanted to do, and that was it."
The two remain close.
"I love coach Carroll," Sanchez said. "I always have and always will. I think he's one of the best, not just coaches, but people I've ever been around. And he's such a great motivator. And more than a coach, he's a teacher."
The feeling is mutual.
"We just had a difference of opinion at the time. I wasn't going to hold it back," Carroll said. "He was awesome with us. He had a great career. He kind of grew up with us before he was even there in school. That had nothing to do with our relationship. I love Mark. He's been a great kid and I'll always be close to him and follow him and root for him and all that stuff."
Now the former Jets quarterback faces the former Jets coach in a game that will go a long way toward defining their seasons.
Nearly 20 years after being fired by the Jets, Carroll stood atop the NFL with his first Super Bowl title. Maybe it won't take that long for Sanchez to experience the same feeling.
And give Jets fans another kick to the gut.