Mark Sanchez humbled, motivated

  • Rich Cimini [ARCHIVE]
  • ESPNNewYork.com | December 5, 2012

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Some might call it a reprieve. New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez sees it as a turning point.

"It was probably the worst and best experience of my life," Sanchez said Wednesday, reflecting on last Sunday's benching.

Sanchez has a chance to turn it into a positive because, after nearly three days in limbo, he was re-named the starter by Rex Ryan. The coach stuck with the struggling Sanchez over fan favorite Greg McElroy, who came off the bench and rallied the Jets to a 7-6 win against the Arizona Cardinals.

Ryan popped into a quarterbacks meeting early Wednesday morning and informed the trio, which includes Tim Tebow, that Sanchez will start Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars. A short time later, Ryan broke the news to the entire team, mentioning his decision in passing during a scouting breakdown of the Jaguars.

Sanchez said he was "pleased" with the choice, naturally, but acknowledged he has to do a better job of protecting the football. He has 18 turnovers, including five in the past two games.

"As much as you disagree with the decision (on Sunday) -- you never want to come out of a game -- I know where he's coming from because I understand everyone needs to be held accountable, myself included," Sanchez said.

Sanchez seemed humbled, yet motivated by the temporary demotion. For three-plus seasons, he was painted as a coddled quarterback who never had to worry about his job security. But, after three interceptions in 2½ quarters, he was yanked -- and he didn't like it one bit.

"I think he was more or less sending a message, and it was well received," Sanchez said. "I know. I get it."

Ryan's hope is Sanchez will benefit from his brief time on the bench, saying it can be a learning experience for a player to take a step back amidst a slump.

Ryan also made it clear he won't tolerate reckless turnovers, strongly suggesting he will have a short leash on Sanchez.

"He has to play better, he has to protect the ball better," Ryan said.

The Jets (5-7) have a lot of money invested in Sanchez, who has an $8.25 million guarantee for 2013, so there's a financial motivation to see him succeed. His new contract, extended last offseason, had "absolutely zero" impact on his decision, Ryan claimed.

Sanchez also was the first draft pick of the Ryan-Mike Tannenbaum administration, which has come under fire in its fourth season. If they benched him in favor of McElroy, a former seventh-round pick with only seven pass attempts on his NFL resume, it would've been a red flag.

But the club's patience with Sanchez is wearing thin.

"It's my job to play the way I know how," he said. "These couple of weeks, and for certain stretches of this season, I haven't. It kind of culminated there on Sunday. Hopefully, that's the end of it and I think it is."

When Sanchez was pulled from the game, it sparked a full-blown quarterback controversy -- a three-quarterback circus. It made for an unusual scene Wednesday in the locker room, with all three players attracting a large crowd of reporters. The other players simply watched, marveling at the scene.

"Being completely honest, I had no expectations whatsoever," McElroy said, insisting he wasn't disappointed by the verdict. "We all trust Rex to do what's in the best interest of the team."

Tebow, in typical fashion, refused to make a stink. But he seemed somewhat disappointed.

"We all want to play, so to say I wouldn't want to be in there playing is not the truth," he said. "I would love to go in there, compete and help this team win football games."

Tebow wasn't a serious consideration, according to sources. He may not even be the No. 2 quarterback this week; it depends on his health. He said his four-week-old rib injury is healing, but the most recent X-rays, taken last Sunday, still revealed two fractures.

He acknowledged he's still not 100 percent, but he believes he can perform at his best in Jacksonville, his hometown.

"I hope so and I believe so," he said.

Despite Ryan's public support of Tebow, the team doesn't see him as a viable alternative at quarterback. The Jets acquired him to run the Wildcat, and they haven't backed off that -- except they barely use him in that role.

Once again, it's Sanchez's show.

"I'm disappointed because I let a lot of people down," Sanchez said, referring to Sunday's awful performance. "You let a lot of teammates down when you play like that. That never feels good.

"This kind of thing affects people's lives and careers. It's not just, 'Oh, man, bummer.' It's not like that. This is serious."

Ryan said he feels "great" about his decision, saying he made it after soliciting opinions from several people in the organization. He admitted the pro-Sanchez sentiment wasn't unanimous. Owner Woody Johnson, who reportedly preferred McElroy, was on board, according to Ryan.

The coach's job could hinge on how Sanchez plays down the stretch.

"I'll be fine. I'll be fine," Sanchez said. "I know how to play better. Now it's time to go prove it."

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