Much hay has already been made about the notion that Mark Sanchez, amazingly, is arguably already the most successful postseason quarterback in Jets history. (Joe Namath excluded from this conversation due to lack of actual playoffs back then, obviously.) Sunday’s game against the Patriots will be his fifth playoff start, tying Chad Pennington for most playoff starts for a Jets quarterback. If the Jets somehow win Sunday, he will be starting his second AFC Championship Game in two years. That’s one fewer than Peyton Manning and Dan Marino. And he’s 24.
Of course, Sanchez isn’t given the credit for his team’s postseason success the way those quarterbacks are, and with good reason: He isn’t as good as they are. Sanchez is a game manager, essentially, à la Trent Dilfer back in the day with the Baltimore Ravens. (We argued that this is what he should be before he ever took his first snap.) But when you’re Mark Sanchez, and you’re advertising everything from shoes to athletic wear to car dealerships, in New York City, no one ever thinks you’re Trent Dilfer. Even if you are.
But Sanchez has shown, in the postseason, to be a little bit more than Dilfer, at least so far. In his four games, two of them were average, both of which were wins, versus San Diego last year and last week versus Indianapolis. In each of those games, he led fourth-quarter comebacks to give the Jets the victory. He was outstanding in the win over Cincinnati last year, and in the loss to Indy in the AFC Championship Game, he threw for 257 yards and two touchdowns. (Remember, had it not been for the Colts’ bolt-of-lightning end-of-half drive in that game, the Jets would have been up 17–6 at halftime.) Sanchez, for whatever reason, has shown that he can raise his game when the Jets need him the most. Last week, his three best passes might have been his last three, the ones that set up Nick Folk’s game-winning field goal.
Still: The concerns about Sanchez have merit; as we’ve argued before, if you made Eli Manning the Jets quarterback rather than Sanchez, the Jets’ chances of winning Sunday would increase twofold. But maybe that’s just cold stathead thinking. Maybe Sanchez has that extra gear that helps his teams win in the postseason, that his 3–1 record in the playoffs and Peyton’s 9–10 record is a measure of some sort of grit or heart that isn’t measured in statistics.
Or maybe Sanchez has been blessed with excellent teams his first two years, teams in which he was smart to be Dilfer and stay out of the way of. Maybe he’s Forrest Gump: just happy to be in the photo. We’re not sure this debate will be resolved after Sunday’s game, whether the Jets win or lose. But if the Jets win, no one will care, one way or the other.