You know what the weirdest part of Sunday's loss to the Steelers was?
It wasn't the fact the Jets lost in excruciating fashion. That's obviously a specialty of theirs. It was the fact that there was an unspoken yet totally unshakable belief that the Jets would win the game if Mark Sanchez got the ball back in his hands after cutting the score to 24-19. The Steelers executed some gutsy play calls and Sanchez never got that chance, but that feeling will linger as a single grace note in another disappointing season.
That's a pretty stark change from this time last year. After the loss to the Colts, the big question around the Jets was if they could ever win with Sanchez as their starting quarterback. There are a ton of questions about the team at this juncture, but none of them have to do with Sanchez's fitness as a leader.
Whatever uncertainty lingered after a regular season littered with stirring comeback victories died during the postseason. His throw to Braylon Edwards to set up the winning kick against the Colts was a big time throw and just about everything he did against the Patriots reeked of championship ability.
The Steelers game started off ugly, but Sanchez led the team back one more time despite a malfunctioning headset and offensive coordinator. He didn't get that one last chance to prove us right, but he'll get many more chances in the future and the confidence meter is only rising at this point.
Sanchez probably won't ever become a quarterback in the Aaron Rodgers/Peyton Manning mold of eye-popping stats and absurd physical gifts. That's not a knock on him, because there aren't many quarterbacks of that type on our wonderful little planet. We could see him becoming a smaller, hopefully less controversial version of the guy who led his team past the Jets to the Super Bowl, however.
Roethlisberger has a knack of coming up with the big plays even when he is having a bad game. On Sunday, he entered the final drive of the game 8-for-17 for 109 yards and two interceptions. He made two huge completions to seal the victory and came up with several drive-extending scrambles over the course of the afternoon, though, and now he's ready to try for a third Super Bowl ring.
Sanchez felt like the same kind of quarterback this postseason and he felt like the same kind of guy in the regular season wins over the Lions, Browns, Texans and Steelers. That's small consolation right now, but it will feel better when thoughts turn to how you're going to finally end the suffering in the years to come.
You need a quarterback capable of taking you to the promised land and, finally, it looks like the Jets have one.