Florham Park, N.J.– Mark Sanchez may be just a second year quarterback, but with the experience of last year’s playoff run in his back pocket, he has the confidence of an established veteran.
“I’m feeling better towards the tail end of my second year. I feel light years ahead of where I was last year, just mentally, knowing the schedule, understanding what a playoff game feels like, anticipating that kind of energy that you get from their crowd and how you need to be loud at the line of scrimmage.” Sanchez said, “Little things that I had to experience first to understand, now I just feel a lot better (about). It’s a great opportunity (for) us and I’ll have a better feel for it.”
It also helps that the Jets will travel to the place where their season ended last year. Obviously last season’s loss provides some extra motivation, but much more important than that, it gives them a comfortable confidence and familiarity with the surroundings they will have to deal with on Saturday night.
“It helps, just knowing the environment (with) the two games from last year. That kind of experience never hurts. It’s good that we’re familiar with the place.” Sanchez said, but still cautioned that the entire team needs to step up when called upon. “We need to be sharp, mistake-free and it’s going to take a great effort from our entire team, so we’re excited about that.”
Sanchez isn’t the only Jet whose confidence has grown. His coach, who let’s face it is never not confident, admitted his confidence in his second year quarterback has grown remarkably from last season.
“I had a lot of confidence in Mark. (Last year), I was going to put it more in the hands of the running game. Three yards and a cloud of dust, punt and we’ll play defense. I think we can do more than that offensively now.” Rex Ryan said, “”Being his second year, the experience he gained last year and the weapons we added (such as) Santonio Holmes, we can be more explosive on offense. I think people have to defend us differently than they did last year.
One of the other reasons for Sanchez’s confidence is that he feels this Jets team is far superior than they were last season and while the prevailing thought around the league is that the Jets don’t match well with the Colts, Sanchez disagrees.
“It’s a great matchup for us. It really is. We beat them once last year, they beat us when it really counted and that’s hard. That’s a tough feeling, going home after a playoff game, (getting) all the way to the AFC Championship game, having the lead at halftime and then coming up short. This is a different team, very similar on their defense. Guys fly around. They do a great job, but it’s a good matchup for us, so we’re excited.”
“I think our team is definitely better. A lot of that has come from Shonn Greene having another year under his belt, me having another year under my belt, our offensive line almost all back, knowing what it’s like playing there and then, the addition of Santonio (Holmes), giving J-Co (Jerricho Cotchery) a chance to free himself up in the slot, Braylon (Edwards), another big target outside and then Dustin (Keller) having a great year. I definitely think we’re a better team.”
Sanchez may like the matchup, but he knows there are two specific players on the Colts defense he and his teammates need to be aware of at all times.
“Those guys (Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis), they’re the heart and soul of that defense. They fly off the edge (and) they stop the run well. They’re not just pass rushers. These guys can slow down your running attack and it’s a solid group.” Sanchez said,”They don’t do a whole lot, but what they do is they try and confuse the quarterback (with) pre-snap looks and then they fly around the ball. They’re not the biggest, size-wise and stature, but they play very hard. (They are) tough, smart guys, so it’s a big-time matchup for us.”
Controlling Freeney and Mathis and stopping Peyton Manning will be no easy task for the Jets, but Sanchez says the entire team is focused on the single goal of beating the Colts.
“We’re focused. I really feel that. Nobody’s had to say too much. Guys understand. You look at guys like Jason Taylor and LaDainian (Tomlinson), guys who came here for this specific reason. If that doesn’t get you excited to play for other guys on your team and to play for yourself and to play for Rex, I don’t know what does. This is a huge opportunity for us and we don’t want our season to end. We’re in this thing. Hopefully, we can get on a four-game win streak and take it right into Super Bowl Sunday, but it started today. We had a great start for our first day of practice and we’re ready to go. Guys are excited.”
Sanchez also knows just how lucky he is to have made the playoffs in both his season, some of his teammates have made sure to tell him just that and make sure he understands the importance of this moment.
“Absolutely, Rex talked to JT (Jason Taylor) and he just said, ‘When’s the last time you won a playoff game?’ He (Taylor) said, ‘Nine years ago,’ so it just tells you how special this opportunity is, how there’s nothing more important in your life right now than what’s going on in this building.” Sanchez said, “That’s the way you need to approach it, when you’re eating, when you’re sleeping, just thinking about the game, going through the calls in your head. It’s another good opportunity for us, so we’ll make the most of it.”
For Sanchez this game is another step to becoming the quarterback he ultimately would like to be, but of course he isn’t looking at it that way. Sanchez doesn’t care about personal accolades or things of that nature, right now he only cares about the success of this team.
“I feel like this game is a lot bigger than me.” Sanchez said when asked if this game was a opportunity for him to start building a legacy. “It’s for our team and we’re just trying to win another playoff game for our team, so I haven’t thought about it that was.”
Sanchez is confident, focused and motivated to get the Jets a victory this Saturday night, but the reason for the second year quarterback’s motivation is rooted in the most basic terms possible.
“It’s win or go home.” Sanchez said, “I don’t want to watch any game next week, I want to be playing in them.”
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