As a native of Mission Viejo, which is just north of San Diego, rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez will experience something of a homecoming atmosphere in the Jets' AFC Divisional playoff game Sunday in San Diego. Not only that, but he starred in college just up the road at the University of Southern California.
"There will be a ton of family there," Sanchez said moments ago at his weekly media session. "It's always fun to go home and play for them and see a bunch of people I haven't seen for awhile and won't see until the offseason. It's going to be a special night. At the same time, there's always something that could be a distraction, whether it's going home or playing against somebody you grew up idolizing in [Cincinnati quarterback] Carson Palmer two weeks in a row.
"Those kind of things happen. There's always little side stories that can get you off track. It's something to respect. I'm appreciative the fans will be there, people I know, but at the same time, we've got to win a football game, and that's our real focus."
In that regard, Sanchez paid his respects to the Chargers' athletic defense, especially cornerbacks Antonio Cromartie and Quentin Jammer and outside linebackers Shaun Phillips and Shawne Merriman. But it also sounded as if he feels the real matchup is against San Diego's offense in terms of winning the time of possession battle.
"On offense, they're explosive," Sanchez said. "We'd love to keep their offense off the field. We need to play well, take care of the football and maximize our opportunities in the red zone. They have a stellar defense. [Safety] Kevin Ellison, a former teammate at USC, came in this year and played really well.
"Both corners are great, Cromartie and Jammer. Then, Phillips and Merriman. They run the 3-4 defense. They're tough. They cause quarterbacks fits. They get interceptions; they get pressure on the quarterback; they test your patience. It's going to be important to
take care of the ball. The crowd's going to be going wild. We need to show up with the right mindset."