CORTLAND, N.Y. — On a wall in his home,
Instead, it's a photo of the first-year quarterback trudging off the field after a five-interception performance in an overtime loss to Buffalo. The story has a snappy, two-word headline:
"I had one of my guys blow it up," said Sanchez, who played in college for USC. "You've got to be able to laugh at some of the stuff. At least I do. You've got to be able to move on and take things in stride."
Thick skin is a requirement for any New York quarterback, but these days Sanchez could use flameproof Kevlar. Once among the NFL's rising stars, a player who made the
Sanchez is locked in a battle with rookie
Over lunch at a greasy-spoon diner down the road from training camp, with his dad, Nick, by his side, Sanchez talked about the difference a couple of years can make. He conceded that three years ago, when his career was going so well, he could not have envisioned being in this type of make-or-break situation, with the widespread belief the Jets are keeping him only because they have to pay his $8.25-million salary.
"But it will turn around," said Sanchez, 26. We'll get back on track, get a couple wins, and once we get in the playoffs this year we'll make a little run. That's all you need to do is make your run, get hot at the right time, stay healthy."
The Jets have done none of that the past two years, finishing 8-8 in 2011 and 6-10 last season. Their once strong defense has deteriorated, their offensive line is coming off an abysmal season, there's not a 1,000-yard rusher on the roster, and Sanchez committed a league-high 52 turnovers the past two seasons.
"No. 1, I've just got to play better. I'll always take ownership of passes that don't work out," Sanchez said.
He added that being in his third system, now under new offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, has been a challenge for the entire offense.
"We've talked a lot about system, and having the same system, having a core group of guys that stay with you," he said. "I think that chemistry helps, anticipating moves, throwing that route to a guy hundreds of times changes a lot of things that you're thinking, changes the way that you throw the ball, and eliminates a lot of the indecision or the unsure feeling of throwing to a new guy."
His performance in the team's annual Green and White scrimmage Saturday night was emblematic of Sanchez's career: He had one memorable bad play (an interception on a deep throw) and finished with a memorable good one (a long touchdown pass). He said he noticed some of the fans booing him on the interception were the same ones asking him for his autograph after the event.
""It's either you're the greatest, or the worst ever," he said. "You're never mediocre. That's just the way it is here."
Sanchez is keeping one eye on Smith, who had a solid but unspectacular night, but is careful not to obsess on the competition.
"I'm unaffected by what Geno's doing," he said. "I think he's a good player. I think he plays well. But it doesn't really matter. I'm trying to beat the defense, and if I'm worried about Geno and it inhibits me, then I'm hurting myself."
It's unlikely Sanchez will ever live down last season's most embarrassing play, when he tried to run up the middle against New England and slammed into the backside of one of his blockers, losing the football as he toppled backward to the turf.
To make matters worse for Sanchez, the Keystone Kops moment happened on Thanksgiving Day, so football fans from coast to coast were watching.
"People ask me about the butt fumble and say, 'Gosh, doesn't that really bum you out?'" Sanchez said. "Are you kidding me? You think every Friday if it comes on 'SportsCenter' I'm just down in the dumps? Who cares? I'm working out. I'm hanging with my family. I'm doing some charity thing. It's the last thing on my mind."
Asked if the job should be his, Sanchez said: "I feel like I should be out there, and I've got to compete well enough to make that happen. That's where my head's at. 'What would I be doing if I didn't start?' I don't think like that."
As always, Nick Sanchez will be there Friday to watch his son play. And as usual, dad will make a beeline for the worst available seat.
"Generally, I get a pretty good ticket to the game, but all it is is a method to access the stadium," said Nick, a retired Orange County fire captain. "Then I find the highest, the farthest, the most isolated seat I can possibly find in the stadium, and that's where I watch the ballgame. By myself. Family? 'I'll see you after the ballgame.'"
The elder Sanchez doesn't like hearing his son get booed, but he also knows that comes with the job. He unapologetically advises his son that if he can't handle this, he needs to find a new profession.
"If you want to do this, you need to be able to accept the ups and the downs, the good days and the not-so-good days," Nick said. "And there aren't any bad days. Being where he's at, there aren't any bad days. If you keep it in perspective, they're all great days."
As for the people booing, Nick said: "If you said, 'Would you swap? Would you take what he's got right now for what your kid's got right now?' I don't think there are very many people who would say no."
But Broadway Schmo? Yes, a dad can stomach even that.
"It's tough at times," Nick said. "But if you keep things in perspective, how many folks are in a position, or will ever be in a position, to be in this tough position?"