FLORHAM PARK, N.J. - There was one particular moment Saturday that showed a snapshot, provided a sneak peek into the maturation process of the Jets' $50-million rookie quarterback.
Mark Sanchez was ready to take the snap on a third-and-6 at Cincinnati's 25 with the Jets leading 14-7 in the third quarter. Rex Ryan sprinted down the sideline, signaling for a timeout a nanosecond before Nick Mangold snapped the ball.
Sanchez was peeved. He knew the coverage the Bengals were employing on that play and said a few choice words to Ryan and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer.
>> PHOTOS: Reasons to fear the Chargers
"It was frustrating," Sanchez said Tuesday. "I thought it was a situation where they thought I wasn't going to get the play off with the play clock. I saw it and was ready to get the snap, and then I felt comfortable with the play that we had called. I knew what was going to happen on defense. I just felt good about it. So when we called a timeout, it was for a different reason, which was fine.
"It was just one of those situations where I felt so good and so comfortable. Then, we stopped everything. I was like, 'Man. Why the heck did you do that?' It's all right, though. They knew I was into the game in the heat of the moment."
Ryan ribbed Sanchez after the game, joking it's about time he knew the coverage. But he had to check the guy he sometimes calls "Cool Hand Luke."
"When we called that timeout, it was so funny," Ryan said. "He was mad. I said, 'All right, kid, you're not head coach yet.' "
That scene shows just how dramatically things have shifted for Sanchez in his last three games. He is no longer a turnover machine. He has become more adept at understanding what the defense is doing, as he made sure to let Ryan know after the coach called the timeout.
"That's maybe a sign of growing up a little, I hope," Sanchez said. "Being able to fire back real quick and knowing what's going on, and six weeks ago, would I have done that? I don't know. Maybe not. Maybe it would have been like, 'Oh, maybe I messed something up. Maybe I didn't get the formation right.' Now, I just feel more comfortable. It's easier, I guess, to start yelling."
Sanchez smiled after that last sentence, showing that he's having the same kind of fun he did early on, when he became the first rookie quarterback to start the season 3-0. He's the fourth rookie quarterback to win a playoff game since 1970, joining Shaun King, Ben Roethlisberger and Joe Flacco.
He hasn't turned over the ball for a season-high three games, a sign he has a better understanding that those mistakes are costly.
"He's definitely more loose," safety Kerry Rhodes said. "I think that he knows that he doesn't have to win a game for us. He just has to come out and be himself, and make sound plays and timely throws."
Sanchez completed 12 of 15 attempts for 182 yards and a touchdown Saturday. His 80-percent completion rate set a Jets postseason record and the 139.4 passer rating was the second-best all-time in franchise postseason history.
Still, Sanchez knows they aren't exactly polishing off a Hall of Fame bust of him in Canton just yet.
"It's definitely something to build on, but we threw the ball 15 times," he said. "I have plenty of room to improve. I haven't arrived. I've still got a long way to go."
>> BLOG: Latest Jets news and analysis