The Unforgivable Carelessness of Mark Sanchez

The injured quarterback, who has likely played his last down for the Jets, does not deserve the press's pity

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Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez tore the labrum of his throwing shoulder against the Giants in Week 3 of the preseason. The team placed Sanchez on a special injured reserve that allowed the possibility of a late-season return, but it wasn’t to be: Sanchez underwent season-ending surgery on Tuesday evening. With a bloated contract the team can shed after 2013, we have probably seen the last of Mark Sanchez as a Jet.

So what does the world make of the end of the Sanchez era? Brian Costello in the New York Post: “The team’s handling of Sanchez and his injury has been shameful.” Rich Cimini, in ESPN New York: “I’ve seen a lot of stuff in 25 years of covering the New York Jets, but this Sanchez story -– from the injury to the cover-up — might be one of the franchise’s most embarrassing egg-on-face incidents.”

That sentiment, shared by most all of the Jets’ credentialed press corps, sounds like the pity-Sanchez rhetoric stirred up by the Aug. 24 injury, and by owner Woody Johnson’s subsequent comments. Two weeks after Sanchez took the big hit, Johnson said: “He’s an experienced guy. I wished he hadn’t gotten hurt, but you’ve got to protect yourself, too.”

The Daily News said Johnson showed “appalling carelessness” in his apparent critique of Sanchez; ESPN called it “insensitive.” But Johnson’s words, however sloppily composed, were an accurate assessment of Sanchez’s most glaring flaw: the very carelessness reporters accused Johnson of exhibiting.

One of Sanchez’s biggest pro-level problems (there are many!) has been his inability to survive the pass rush. In 2011, per Pro Football Focus, Sanchez ranked fourth-likeliest among starters to get sacked under pressure. In 2012, he ranked third. It gets uglier. In 2012, the Jets led the league in “play-call sacks” — sacks allowed to unblocked defenders. And who, again, is responsible for telling linemen how to pick up rushers? It’s the quarterback.

The thing about coordinating pass-blocking is that it’s one of the easiest challenges a quarterback faces. All the action happens pre-snap, before players are sprinting and hitting each other. Zipping a prolate spheroid into the hands of a leaping man 20 yards downfield, at the split-second he’s open: That’s hard. Telling your tight end or running back, “Hey, be sure to block this outside linebacker when he starts to run toward you”: a cinch, by comparison. And Sanchez did it horribly.

What’s worse: the easy stuff, the game’s cerebral component, was billed as Sanchez’s forte, when he entered the draft. “Shows maturity, confidence and intelligence,” read one scouting report. “Cerebral. … Reads defenses well and rarely throws into coverage. … Goes through his progression quickly and takes what the defense gives him. … Recognizes the blitz very well for a player of his experience and often targets the defenses’ weak link when being blitzed,” said another. A third: “Sanchez’s mental game is outstanding. He prepares well and reads defenses exceptionally. He displays excellent instincts and does a great job victimizing the defense.”

Wishful thinking, all of that.

Of course Sanchez’s Jets tenure would end because of a pass rush he misread. The right tackle didn’t pick up the man who flushed Sanchez from the pocket, and straight into a big hit from Marvin Austin. Frustration over that shortcoming — shared by every fan, if not by the reporters to whom Sanchez was so gracious for four years — is what’s at the heart of Johnson’s “protect yourself” bit. Sanchez has never protected himself; he has never protected the ball; he has never protected the offense. Mark Sanchez was professionally careless.

Since his injury, Sanchez has injected his not-to-be fifth season with promise it never had. “I won the competition. There’s no doubt,” he told the NFL Network’s Rich Eisen, about his training-camp battle with Geno Smith. Finally he’s gotten around to protecting something. But it’s his legacy in the 2013 preseason, the least important thing of all.