Sanchez may never be as good as Manning is right now. He may never win a Super Bowl or a Super Bowl MVP. But at a similar point in his career, Manning was playing as poorly as Sanchez is right now. Well, if misery loves company, that at least has to give the Jets some hope.
The Jets should be worried about Sanchez, who has regressed this season and forced Rex Ryan to attempt to wake up him by giving Mark Brunell a handful of first-team snaps this week. The little trick, right out of Coaching 101, worked last year in the week leading up to a big victory in Pittsburgh.
Still, in a meaningful spot, Brunell has as much chance of playing this season as Joe Namath.
Tom Coughlin never played mind games with Manning, but maybe he should have. In fact, even after Manning won the Super Bowl in his fourth season in 2007, the doubts about him returned, especially after he threw an NFL-high 25 interceptions last season.
Sanchez, midway through his third season, has started 41 regular-season games. Manning started his 41st regular-season game in the second game of his fourth season in 2007, the Super Bowl season.
The perception about Manning then and Sanchez now is almost identical: Could the Giants or the Jets ever win the Super Bowl with their quarterback?
Manning and the Giants struggled through the 2007 season, not clinching a wild-card spot until they won in Buffalo in the 15th game, and then the quarterback and the team got red hot in the playoffs and began a magical ride to the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
Sanchez and the Jets are struggling. There is not the slightest evidence they will win the Super Bowl this year based on how they are playing - or even make the playoffs despite a schedule over the next three weeks (Bills, Redskins, Chiefs) that makes it seem as if they hand-picked the games.
Sanchez’s ability to win a Super Bowl looks less likely each time he steps on the field. But the same could be said about Manning toward the end of his fourth season. In the game after Thanksgiving in the Super Bowl season, Manning had three interceptions returned for TDs in a 41-17 loss to the Vikings and three weeks later completed just 18 of 53 passes (34%) in a loss to the Redskins.
At comparative stages of their careers, neither Manning nor Sanchez was lighting it up.
Consider a few things by the time Manning and Sanchez had 41 regular-season starts:
-- Manning’s record was 20-21. Sanchez is 24-17. Manning, who took over as the Giants’ starter in the 10th game of his rookie year, lost his first six starts. Sanchez, who started from the first game of his rookie year, won his first three starts.
-- Manning had thrown for 8,506 yards with 59 TDs and 46 INTs and completed 54.7% of his passes. Sanchez has thrown for 8,068 yards with 43 TDs and 43 INTs and completed 55.2%. Manning had thrown for 16 more TDs, the INTs were about the same and Manning had thrown for an average of 11 yards more per game. Other than the TDs, the numbers are fairly similar.
-- Big difference: Manning was 0-2 in the playoffs. Sanchez is 4-2 and has taken the Jets to the AFC title game in his first two seasons. Sanchez has been a more effective quarterback in the playoffs than he has been in the regular season, completing more than 60% of his passes each year.
The Jets are 5-5 this season after Sanchez’s 41st start resulted in an embarrassing loss to the Broncos in a game in which he threw his third pick-six of the season. The Giants were 0-2 at the start of the 2007 season after Manning had started his 41st game.
I asked Manning yesterday at what point in a quarterback’s career does the game start to slow down rather than being at a frenzied pace.
“I think just when you start to understand what you are doing,” he said. “I don’t think there is a time frame. You know the offense inside and out and have a good understanding of the protections, have a plan of what you are doing and all of a sudden, if the plan doesn’t work, have a backup plan.”
When did that happen for him?
“I don’t have an exact time,” he said.
All this means is that there is hope for Sanchez with no guarantees.
What’s disturbing is he doesn’t seem to be learning from his mistakes, then beats himself up after games, says he has to get better, and doesn’t.
He has two years remaining after this one on his five-year, $50 million rookie deal. The Jets have a recent history of taking care of their core players before they play out their contracts, so presumably they will want to make a decision on Sanchez by the end of the 2012 season.
If not, he will be playing for a new contract during the 2013 season. But he must take his game to a new level for the Jets to justify making another huge financial commitment to him.
And if he’s not any better than he is right now in two years, the Jets may have a huge decision to make: Do they start over at quarterback?
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