“Somebody said that Mark Sanchez is basically JaMarcus Russell." My friend was not pleased with the idea, and a month ago, that would have stuck with me, too. I’d have argued against it, looked at the numbers, probably wrestled with the doubts about this rookie who had been trusted with my team’s future, and settled into a comfortable state of refusal to even consider the possibility for the sake of my sanity. Now, I read the article and smile, because I know, like I know what color the sky will be tomorrow, that the comparison is ridiculous. That’s what happens when you grow with a group of people, and I grew with this Jets team. I watched Shonn Greene become the new “IT” running back, a title that he deserves for his mix of explosive speed and power, making him a battering ram of a human being. I watched Jericho Cotchery go from a reliable safety valve to the best hands in the AFC. I watched Dustin Keller finally get right on the edge of being the next great pass catching tight end (which I look forward to him finally achieving next season). I watched Braylon Edwards…well, not everyone is built for personal or professional growth at the same time.
Spend all season with a team, and you’ll come to appreciate the feel of the organization. Spend all season with a team that forces you to invest some real emotion in them, because you actually believe they could be something special, and you come to appreciate the individuals that make up that organization. It’s something like the difference between how you and a physicist understand gravity. This is true with these Jets for nobody more than Mark Sanchez. Believe me, I was there for the 20 interceptions. I watched them all. But I was also there as he started to make smarter throws. I watched him respond to a media that loves nothing more than shattering the idols it creates (a la the article in question) by smiling, continuing to tweak his throws, and become more comfortable. Then, this past Sunday, I watched him do everything he could to win a game in which his defense was completely shook (not the first time this has happened when he’s played up to his lofty expectations, mind you) and his run game was hobbled (Greene getting hurt had a much bigger impact than anybody seems willing to admit). As with other games (the Dolphin losses stand out), Sanchez’s best wasn’t going to be enough, and yet it felt different. Those losses ended with question marks. This one, coming at the end of the season of doubt and turmoil, left no room for any answers other than the ones given on the field. Mark Sanchez is capable of leading a team. He is able to make use of all of the tools in his arsenal (and could we please acknowledge that this team still, years later, doesn’t have a slot receiver?). In short, he’s come a long way from the rookie who was learning the ropes the same way every quarterback learns the ropes in their first year, and the same confidence that had been a liability is now the thing that will make him deadly as he matures and becomes more comfortable with his receiving options.
Yes, the numbers improved a little, but looking at the numbers and nothing else is for people who could just as easily watch a Madden simulation. Without the feel for what actually happens over the course of a possession, a game, or a season, the numbers signify nothing. What we lose in objectivity as fans, we gain in a more real understanding of how a team finds itself or a player grows into the stats he produces. This doesn’t mean I don’t watch the numbers, or that I don’t think they’re important. Quantitatively, I could easily dispute the Sanchez/Russell comparison, considering that Russell was already in his second year when he started his 15 game season, he had a team full of speedy wideouts (say what you will, but the Jets started the season with David Clowney as their only speed option), and for all the talk of the evenness in interceptions, Sanchez threw 12 over the span of three games (including a 5 pick special) while Russell spread his out over the course of the year. The former indicates a player who has awful single games (which, last I checked, is OK for rookies); the latter indicates a player who fails to progress (which is a much worse sign for rookies). Oh, and did I mention that Sanchez had only two INTs in his last 5 games (including one broken route by the aforementioned Clowney and compared to 4 TDs)? Throw in Brian Schottenheimer’s unwillingness to craft a basic pass attack (outside of play action passes) to balance out the rush game (as opposed to the overly cute trickery that hinders the vertical attack as much as it protects Sanchez), and there are PLENTY of quantitative points to debate here.
And yet all of that isn’t the point. The point is that none of those things are the first things that come to mind when the Russell/Sanchez comparison is made. In fact, Mark Sanchez doesn’t come to mind at all when I read this article. Because for all the panic that the writer attempts to thrust on to his career, and for all the panic that the media has tried to attach to his journey through this season, the fact is that the picture they paint with the numbers doesn’t fit with the reality I saw play itself out, particularly in this last game. And if that doesn’t make sense to you, then maybe you understand how I feel when I look at an article comparing the quarterback I saw progress and grow into my team’s leader to a quarterback I saw regress into the shadows of obsolescence. The quarterback they construct with the numbers they’ve chosen sounds like a shaky, unreliable person; lucky for me, that’s not the Mark Sanchez I know.