After throwing four touchdowns in the Jets’ 28-24 win over Buffalo, quarterback Mark Sanchez is riding high.
But don’t expect that to last.
It is a curious phenomenon. Mark Sanchez is ripped to shreds one minute and exonerated the next, often with barely a play separating jeers from cheers – and back to jeers again. It has gotten to the point where this past Sunday, Sanchez was booed during pregame introductions by the fans, leading to safety Jim Leonhard lashing out during a radio interview earlier this week for what he saw as over the top criticism.
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Unlike in Denver where Tim Tebow is built up like a deity, Jets fans build up their quarterback only to tear him down.
“I think until he wins the whole thing, he’s going to be criticized just like I’m going to be criticized until we win it,” head coach Rex Ryan said. “That’s fine. It comes with the territory.”
The Week 12 win underscores this issue as Sanchez threw four touchdowns, setting a new career high. Anyone who dared to bring up that he completed just 17 of his 35 passes in the game was quickly shunned. For two weeks leading up to the game against the Bills, Sanchez was vilified for poor performances in losses to New England and Denver.
Now, after a comeback win and a personal best in touchdown passes, Sanchez is again elevated.
Part of it is the fact that he is a quarterback in the pressure cooker that is New York, but he is also a former first-round pick and a top-five selection at that. Pressure comes with that type of status. Sanchez was instantly made the face of the franchise. Because his numbers are rather middling, the Jets and Ryan are always quick to point to Sanchez’s winning record and his 4-2 mark in the playoffs to offset questions about his development.
“Still, I love how Sanchez is. When you look at it, I always say ‘Judge quarterbacks on wins.’ But if you’re also going to break it down further than that, look at how many guys and how they play in the fourth quarter. Our quarterback plays extremely well,” Ryan said. “Still over the last two years, [he] has as many fourth-quarter comebacks as any quarterback in the league. I’ll take his four road playoff wins, as well. Mark Sanchez is not our problem. He’s one of the strengths of our team.”
Though he wins games and is still a young quarterback, Jets fans eager for their first Super Bowl appearance in over four decades are not only ready to anoint Sanchez their savior, they’re also ready to crucify him at the slightest slip up. Sports psychologist Dr. John Murray sees this willingness of Jets fans to build Sanchez up only to knock him down as emblematic of our society.
“I think this goes beyond the fans. The fans learn from the media how to act. Media loves controversy because it sells. Fans are exposed to that and find the contrasts both fascinating and disturbing. It gives everyone something to talk about like gossip,” Dr. Murray said. “The wilder it is the more people tune in. It also makes the fans feel that their heroes are more real, so they can be related to easier on a human level. It’s almost as if fan says ‘Yes, my hero was a great coach but he or she is now understood to be flawed like the rest of us’ and now [their] problems in life don’t seem so bad by comparison.”
Follow Jets beat writer Kristian Dyer on Twitter @KristianRDyer.