Neil Best Newsday columnist Neil Best

Neil Best first worked at Newsday in 1982, then returned in 1985. His SportsWatch column debuted in 2005.


For much of the past six months Mark Sanchez has seemed like a lab rat caught in a prolonged psychological experiment, designed to make or break him.

The first important test comes Sunday against the Bills, but first there was one last, peculiar day to endure in Jets-land Wednesday, as Sanchez met the media for the final time before the opener.

Well, he met some of the media, anyway. There were as many, if not a few more, journalists around backup Tim Tebow, who spoke at the same time as Sanchez in the locker room.

If Sanchez noticed that, he did not say. He surely did notice another round of pointed questions -- including one about whether there have been times he considered himself a weak link -- and gave some candid, pointed answers.

When a reporter asked Sanchez what he thought of owner Woody Johnson saying on CNBC last week, "I don't think you can ever have too much Tebow,'' Sanchez said, "Selling seats, man. Selling seats.''

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Sanchez quickly smiled, again said all the right things about the ways in which "Tim helps,'' and said he did not take Johnson's comment as a slight. But the part about selling tickets certainly had a ring of truth to it.

Then Sanchez was asked about coach Rex Ryan saying on ESPN Radio that if Tebow were on a roll he could be in for as many as 20 plays in a game. Sanchez didn't smile when he said, "I mean, I've got to play the cards I'm dealt here and keep working hard, keep leading this team, do everything I can. It's our job to work together -- Tim and I.''

All of this came 4½ hours after Ryan offered another seemingly emphatic endorsement of Sanchez, saying he predicted when Sanchez was somewhat of a weak spot as a rookie that the day would come when he became a team strength.

"I think that day is right now,'' Ryan proclaimed, offering a headline-worthy nugget on a day when the Yankees and Giants figured to own the spotlight.

And yet, by late afternoon Sanchez was getting buffeted by media winds again, and then Santonio Holmes was sharing the news with reporters that the quarterback was "rattled'' when he first heard the news the Jets had acquired Tebow.

Holmes' recollection of Sanchez's thoughts at the time: "Wow, how did this happen?''

That is an excellent question actually, one as relevant in September as it was in March.

The X's and O's still have a certain logic. There is no question Tebow is a gifted player who deployed correctly and sparingly could bolster the Jets' less-than-dynamic array of offensive weapons.

Alas, it never is that simple when it comes to quarterbacks, especially in the NFL, and especially in New York.

It is difficult to feel sorry for Sanchez given his cool job, good looks, bachelor lifestyle and fat bank account. But it also was difficult not to Wednesday as he continued to answer awkward questions about an awkward situation.

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Sanchez's psychological sturdiness has been one of the questions surrounding him, but if he emerges from this trial unscarred he will have proved he has what it takes to stand the heat.

If not, the Jets will have to consider the possibility they set him up to fail, caught in a maze not of his making.