The time has come for Mark Sanchez to lead the Jets back to the playoffs.
And Rex Ryan has no doubt his franchise quarterback can do just that.
"As a rookie, he was looked at as a weakness of our football team," the Jets coach said Wednesday of Sanchez. "And I said, there's going to be a day when he's looked at as a strength and not a weakness.
"And I think that day is right now."
Throughout the quarterback's rookie year, experts noted the Jets would have to win in spite of Sanchez. To be fair, the quarterback gave them reason to doubt him, throwing 12 touchdowns and 20 interceptions. But, as we saw, Sanchez came up big in big spots.
After his first two NFL seasons, he was tied for the most road playoff victories in league history -- having defeated Cincinnati and San Diego as a rookie, before stunning Tom Brady and the Patriots and Peyton Manning and the Colts en route to the Jets' second straight AFC Championship Game.
Though the Jets finished a disappointing 8-8 and failed to reach the playoffs last season, Sanchez posted career numbers in 2011: a 56.7 completion percentage, 3,474 passing yards and 26 touchdowns.
And as Sanchez gets set for his fourth -- and most critical -- season, Ryan has no fear his quarterback will come through. Again.
Despite all of the quarterback's struggles over the years, his coach always believed the tide would turn and Sanchez would turn heads in the process.
"I don't think there's one area he hasn’t improved in -- from leadership, learning the system and opponents," Ryan said. "He's throwing the ball with more zip, more accuracy. And just from a physical standpoint, he's a bigger, stronger guy."
With Sanchez as his quarterback, a return to the playoffs isn't a question for Ryan. It's an expectation.
"Absolutely I am," the coach said, when asked if he's confident Sanchez can lead to this team to the postseason. "He shows it every day, in the classroom, with his teammates, in the weight room. He's working as hard as anybody -- anybody I've ever been around.
He's been really impressive that way. ...I see him stepping up, challenging his teammates. All those things -- not that you expect, but it's like -- this is him."