CORTLAND, N.Y. -- Mark Sanchez rattled off the statistics with ease, as if they had been stored for years in a mental Rolodex.
The Jets quarterback has taken notes on Eli Manning's career, keeping the necessary details in the back of his mind for reassurance and motivation.
"That fourth year, I think he threw one pick in the playoffs when they won that Super Bowl. One," Sanchez said Monday, referring to the Giants quarterback's postseason success in the 2007 season. "And I think he might have thrown 20 in the regular season."
Manning, a two-time Super Bowl champion, is the measuring stick for making it in New York. His first eight seasons are proof that the learning curve can be managed -- and mastered -- by someone with the right temperament and skill set. Both had surprisingly similar numbers during their first three years: Manning amassed 8,049 passing yards, 54 touchdowns and 44 interceptions in 41 games (39 starts) for a passer rating of 73.2. Sanchez had 9,209 passing yards, 55 TDs and 51 interceptions for a rating of . . . 73.2.
As Sanchez prepares for his fourth NFL season, he can't help but be reminded of how quickly things changed for Manning and the Giants during Eli's breakout 2007 season. Sanchez learned that failures can be forgiven with playoff achievement and forgotten with a Super Bowl ring.
"You see guys elevate their game in the playoffs," Sanchez said. "You look at other careers. That kind of stuff gets brought to your attention, especially when you have similar career tracks as somebody else in the league or a similar upbringing. Just like [Colts quarterback Andrew] Luck and [Peyton] Manning: Both were first-round picks, both stayed for their senior year. You just kind of pick up on similarities like that.
"So, yeah, I looked into it and saw how successful [Eli has] been, seen how he's really weathered the storm and played really well."
Early in Manning's career, however, pundits questioned whether he had the wherewithal, mental toughness or physical fortitude to improve. In his rookie year, the Giants went 1-6 in his starts and Eli had a .482 completion percentage. It took almost four seasons before he was able to silence his critics, leading the Giants to four playoff wins, including an upset of the undefeated Patriots in Super Bowl XLII.
Manning, who led the Giants to another Lombardi Trophy last season, set a standard Sanchez hopes to reach and, eventually, surpass. But "it takes time," Sanchez said.
Confidence is gained through practice reps and game experience, he explained. It grows as players get more comfortable with their surroundings, their assignments and themselves.
"They just feel more comfortable and they suddenly become more accurate, and people take notice of it in the fourth, fifth, sixth year," said Sanchez, who threw a career-high 26 touchdowns and had 18 interceptions last season. "But it's a process."
Unlike most NFL quarterbacks, Sanchez was thrust into action from Day 1. Although his stats weren't all that impressive his first two seasons (29 touchdowns, 33 interceptions in 2009-10), he helped lead the Jets to two AFC title games.
Rex Ryan often has discussed the growth in Sanchez since his rookie year, both on the field and in the meeting rooms. The "burning desire to win" was evident in his first season, Ryan said, but now there's "maybe a little less messing around."
Said Ryan: "He's a true pro. And four years into it, I think you expect it. And you see it."