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Regular Season Success Integral to Jets' Super Bowl Quest


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Regular Season Success Integral to Jets' Super Bowl Quest

Team Must Earn Bye, Home Field Advantage

by Jon Wagner

Wednesday, August 10, 2011


All-Pro center Nick Mangold

In just two years in the NFL, New York Jets’ quarterback Mark Sanchez has quickly proven that he’s more than capable of stepping up his own game when the game he’s playing in counts the most.

Case in point, despite suffering through the expected growing pains of inexperienced-induced inconsistency, Sanchez has already found a way to match the NFL record for most postseason road wins (four).

Of course, much of that postseason success had to do with Sanchez’ teammates, especially behind him, in the backfield, and those he doesn’t play with, on defense.

And, naturally, you have to first be seeded low enough to be in the position to win that many road playoff games in such a short time – something the Jets have made a habit of (as a five and six seed, respectively, in each of the past two seasons) thanks in part to Sanchez poor play at times, during the regular season.

Yet, as the pressure increased, Sanchez rose to the occasion with a 60.5 completion percentage, nine touchdowns, and just three interceptions in six playoff games (all on the road) during his rookie and sophomore campaigns, while helping the Jets to consecutive AFC title game appearances.

But, while the Jets have made the most of their playoff chances with Sanchez at quarterback, they also lived on the edge and have benefitted from some help just to reach the postseason over the past two years.

If the top-seeded Indianapolis Colts hadn’t rested their starters late in the season, the Jets might have finished a mediocre 8-8 and missed the playoffs two years ago.

And, had non-playoff teams Denver, Detroit, and Cleveland managed the ends of games against the Jets a lot smarter last season, New York might have likewise finished 8-8 and out of the playoffs instead of going 11-5 to grab the final playoff spot in the AFC.

So, while many are once again expecting big things from a team that narrowly missed the Super Bowl each of the past two seasons, a closer look at the regular season play of Sanchez and the rest of his team could indicate that the Jets and their quarterback might still have a lot of improving to do in order to get back to where they’ve been.

That’s where something that Sanchez has responded well to thus far – pressure – could make or break the Jets’ upcoming season.

Especially when most Jet fans tend to focus more on the Jets’ recent postseason success, and when they see a more seasoned third-year quarterback without the excuse of being a raw first-year or second-year signal caller, along with a more experienced and likely more talented, revamped receiving corps at Sanchez’s disposal.

Particularly in a city like New York, for a fanbase like that of Jet fans, starved for the past 43 years for a guy like Sanchez to become the next Joe Namath and finally lead Jet Nation back to an NFL title.

The normal, built-in excuses for a young quarterback like Sanchez are quickly dissipating.

Wide receivers Jerricho Cotchery and Braylon Edwards are out, and in as their replacements are Plaxico Burress and Derrick Mason.

Even after missing the past two-plus seasons Burress, still figures to be a dangerous threat, standing at 6-foot-5, with an abundance of athleticism, at the age of 34.

Speaking of the ability to respond well to pressure, Burress, along with Santonio Holmes (who should feel very comfortable and ready to go this year with his new long-tern contract), gives Sanchez a pair of former Pittsburgh Steeler weapons who each know what it’s like to make last-minute Super Bowl-winning catches (Jet fans are well aware that Burress won Super Bowl XLII for the New York Giants and that Holmes captured a title for the Steelers the following year in similar fashion).

Add to that mix the fourteen years of NFL experience, nearly 1,000 career receptions, and almost 12,000 receiving yards from newly acquired Derrick Mason, coming off of a productive 61-catch, 802-yard, seven-touchdown season for Baltimore last year, and Sanchez should have all he needs to compete, barring any key injuries.

Mason was a Ravens’ salary cap casualty and he considered returning to Baltimore for less money, but he ultimately thought the Jets would give him the best chance at securing his first long-awaited Super Bowl ring.

With one of the leagues best defenses to and a retooled receiving corps to support him, and without the excuse of being in his first two years in the league, Sanchez will feel the pressure from a lot more than opposing defenses this season.

And, Sanchez knows it.

“It’s going to take me being better, and that’s one of the most important things,” Sanchez told reporters at Jets’ practice on Monday.

No stranger to that type of pressure, Sanchez must now come through well before the stakes are as high as they were the past two Januarys.

The Jets’ continued success in the postseason will depend on it.

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