FLORHAM PARK, N.J. - Thomas Jones wanted to make sure Mark Sanchez is aware of the urgency of the situation, so he took time the other day to give him the inside scoop on what the playoffs are really like.
Sanchez is on the verge of capping a seesaw rookie season with a postseason berth, provided the Jets can get past the Bengals in Sunday's regular-season finale at Giants Stadium. Just hearing Jones go on about the allure of the playoffs was probably enough to make Sanchez wish he could hop in a time machine and bypass Week 17.
"He said there is nothing like it, just absolutely nothing like it," Sanchez said Wednesday. "Bowl games in college, rivalry games. You thought that Patriots game earlier in the year was big? Not even close. So, he said other regions in the country are shut down. There is no more football and everybody watches you. Everybody wants to see you. And we're in New York. What else do you want?
"Win and you're in. It was a great perspective to hear from."
Sunday's game represents the stiffest challenge of Sanchez's 14-game pro career. With the playoffs on the line on a team loaded with veterans, the last thing he wants is to hurt the Jets' chances with erratic play and add to his 20 interceptions. The Southern California product doesn't want to face a long, disappointing offseason and not get to play in postseason games that he knows "are like the Rose Bowl times 10, at least, if not times 100."
The Jets, though, don't seem too worried that their $50-million franchise quarterback will tighten up in such a big spot.
"I think he's going to do just fine," Rex Ryan said. "We're fortunate. He played some huge games at SC. He's played some good big games up to this point. Really, you go back five weeks, we thought we had to win out, so those were some pressure games as well. I think he knows the formula for our team's success. He's confident, he's ready to go. I mean, if we had to play tomorrow, he'd be ready to roll."
"There is pressure, but there is not," Jones said. "All you can do is go out there and play your best and see what happens."
If Sanchez has a turnover- free game, as he did in Sunday's 29-15 win over the Colts, there's a good chance the Jets will end their two-year playoff absence. They are 8-0 when they win the turnover battle and 4-2 when Sanchez doesn't commit one. In the nine games he's tossed zero or one interception, the Jets are 7-2. The four times he's thrown three or more picks, the Jets are 0-4.
"It seemed like when we take care of the football, me in particular, then we start getting the breaks," Sanchez said. "Then we get the kickoff return to the house, then we get a big run, then we get a catch-and-run for 20 yards. Stuff like that happens when you don't turn the ball over. If they score 14 points off two interceptions and now we get a kickoff return, we're still playing catch-up. It's a whole different mindset."
So for the second straight week, Sanchez will be under the microscope in front of a national audience, watching to see if the rookie can play well enough to lead the Jets into the postseason.
"These are the kind of games that you want to play in," Sanchez said. "When you're in your backyard playing growing up, that's all you want is a chance. This is big for us and our entire organization."