When the Jets go to Detroit this weekend, the entire team will be trying to make amends for their miserable performance last Sunday against the Packers. There might not be any player with more on the line than Mark Sanchez.
That's not because he's the sole person to blame for the 9-0 loss to Green Bay, not by any means, but because another bad game would make four in a row for the player who started the season with such a flourish. If that bad game should coincide with another loss, then you'll see a slew of articles about how the Jets put their big talk and Super Bowl dreams into the hands of a quarterback who has no business leading a team.
The play on the field has been backing up that notion, but there's also some off-field business that's calling Sanchez's fitness for leadership into question. Braylon Edwards took time out of his day on Thursday to point out that Sanchez isn't good enough to criticize other players when they make mistakes, which is notable for a couple of reasons.
The first is that quarterbacks, as leaders on the field, should be able to point out when their teammates make mistakes. They don't have to react like spoiled brats, as Philip Rivers of the Chargers has perfected, nor do they need to be Peyton Manning-level talents to get people to listen to them, but they are ultimately held responsible for the success or failure of the offense and need to have the leeway to get people working. That Edwards feels comfortable calling out Sanchez like that is a sign that the quarterback doesn't yet have that kind of leeway and that might be even more significant.
We also learned this week that the Jets have instituted a system of fines to keep Sanchez's body language in line. It seems that Sanchez, who never voices complaint with his teammates, has a habit of reacting to bad plays the same way a sulky teenager reacts when their parents tells them to do something that they don't want to do. It's mostly in jest and at the request of Sanchez, but it fits into a pattern of play and behavior that makes you wonder if Sanchez is going to make it as a starting quarterback.
Sunday provides another chance for Sanchez to quiet the doubters, especially since he's going to be facing off with the only other quarterback selected before him in the 2009 Draft. Matthew Stafford has struggled to stay healthy over the last two years, and hasn't played particularly well when he's been in the lineup which puts him behind Sanchez in the food chain. Beating Stafford on Sunday would stand to make that gap even larger for Sanchez, as well as keep his critics at bay for another week.
That's not a small thing. Sanchez has done a very good job at keeping his focus on football despite intense scrutiny of his play over the last two years, but you wonder how long that can go on. At some point, it risks becoming a Donovan McNabb-type situation where the player can never truly succeed because every time he clears an obstacle the bar moves higher and higher. Sanchez is nowhere near McNabb, obviously, but he'll have to get closer if the Jets are going to get where they want to go.
Just your typical Week Nine in the NFL, in other words.