FLORHAM PARK, N.J. – Mark Sanchez has been haunted, no, terrorized by the New England Patriots’ demons in his two visits to Gillette Stadium. Sanchez has played like he’s been possessed. Usually a statement reserved for an out-of-body, amazing performance for athletes, Sanchez’s possession has been quite the opposite.
In two games at Foxborough, he has thrown one touchdown to seven interceptions while fumbling the ball twice. Don’t surprised if next to Sanchez’s iPad and gameplan notebook will be some holy water and a copy of the Bible in his duffel bag as he prepares to exorcise the demons that have tormented the second-year quarterback.
Outside of hiring Father Merrin to keep the Patriots’ demon-defenders away from Sanchez, what can the Jets do to make this fad fade away? The answer is keep doing what they’re doing.
With the help from the high priest Rex Ryan and Father Brian Schottenheimer, Sanchez has all the tools around him to dismantle his demons. After a year of on-the-job learning, he has stopped worrying about the dark forces swirling around him and just plays the game.
After all, the aura of the Patriots can be rather possessive. The lore of Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, not even the actual persons, may have stolen many hours of sleep from opposing teams.
“My first year, I thought about [matching Brady’s performance],” Sanchez said, about how the other quarterback is doing and trying to match him and have better stats and a better rating.”
Ryan, in his opening address as the newest Jets head coach, felt the recent dominance of the Patriots wore on New Yorkers so much that he proclaimed that he wasn’t here to kiss Belichick’s rings.
And with a 60-minute effort from the every Jet, in particular Sanchez and Ryan, they can exorcise their Patriot demons, by playing their own game.
Though he wasn’t at his best against the Colts, when the Jets needed Sanchez’s fifth game-winning drive he became The Sanchize. Stepping up when his team needs it most is something Ryan has seen more of out of his second-year signal caller.
“His confidence is really huge. I think that comes with his knowledge of the system, how feels about his teammates and being able to recognize defenses. He’s way ahead of where he was last year.”
Belichick has even noticed a better sense of poise from Sanchez. “He’s done an excellent job in some tough situations and brought his team back and won for them. I think anytime a quarterback does that, that’s what you want on your resume.” Flattering words from the man who has haunted his career.
His confidence will be essential to how the offensive game spells out for the Jets. The sooner Sanchez can turn into The Sanchize the better. As we saw in their last meeting, playing from behind in Foxborough doesn’t usually work out for the opponents.
“[Last game] we started off slow. They started off fast and they kept rolling. And we were never able to bounce back. When you get down like that, then you start forcing balls, throwing interceptions and you just end up buried,” Sanchez said.
Since the performance at Foxborough coupled with an ugly home loss the following week against Miami, Sanchez has vowed to play a more mistake-free game. He also feels that himself, as well as his teammates, have faced and overcome the mistakes that took place against the Patriots in Week 13.
“We just realized the importance of the ball, time of possession, taking care of the ball, completing pass early and getting into a rhythm. In our biggest wins, that’s the way we’ve played on offense and the way I played. It’s going to be imperative for us to start fast, to be able to bounce back from adversity and winning the turnover battle,” Sanchez said.
With the biggest game of his career to date just a mere three days away, Sanchez, cross in hand, seems primed to rid himself of the demons that have been the Patriots and his personal Hell on Earth, Gillette Stadium.
And he wouldn’t want it any other way. “All we could ask for is to play them one more time.”
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