Seven Eight rookie quarterbacks in NFL history have started a playoff game: Dan Marino, Todd Marinovich, Bernie Kosar, Ben Roethlisberger, Shaun King, Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco, and Mark Sanchez. Four won a game (Roethlisberger, King, Flacco, and Sanchez) and two actually won two (Flacco and Sanchez). None have reached the Super Bowl. Since 1985, only one team coming off a winning season has ever started a rookie quarterback in week one: the 2009 New York Jets. And, of course, only one quarterback has ever taken the Jets to the Super Bowl: Joe Namath. Mark Sanchez can make history in many different ways on Sunday, and it’s all happening before he’s even really learned how to walk.
The modus operandi for the Jets all season — particularly since Sanchez’s five-interception performance against Buffalo back in October — has been to run the ball, force turnovers, blitz like crazy, and make matters as easy and simple for Sanchez as possible. We’re particularly fond of the kid-friendly, color-coded system Rex Ryan devised for him.
That has worked better in the postseason than it did in the regular season. Ryan’s plan has worked to perfection in both the wins over the Bengals (bash a tired, wounded team in the face repeatedly) and the Chargers (withstand an early charge, hang around, wait for the other team to screw up), and each of those plans have involved Sanchez staying out of trouble and play-actioning his way to limited success.This is a man who has thrown for a total of 282 yards in two games, or about what Aaron Rodgers threw in thirty minutes of football a week-and-a-half ago.
What makes this so intriguing is that the “game manager” role the Jets have Sanchez playing, the Trent Dilfer, is so different than the role they ultimately imagine him in. Sanchez is a better quarterback than Dilfer, capable of more, different throws, and the only reason he’s meant to play like him now is because that Sanchez, the winging-it-around-the-field Sanchez, he hasn’t emerged yet. He’s a potentially great young quarterback impersonating an old unskilled one. On a perfect planet, the Sanchez of three years from now would be the leader of this year’s team, which is strong everywhere but at the most important position of all.
There will be years in which Sanchez is the Jets’ main asset. But the year he might make the Super Bowl, the year he might make history, will be his dullest. Most of us look back at our youth and think about how dumb we were. Sanchez will look back at his youth and think about how much better matters were, back when he was dumb.