You couldn't swing a dead cat this summer without hitting someone telling you that it was imperative that Mark Sanchez showed marked improvement as a quarterback this season. Because of that we thought we'd check in weekly to see how the Sanchize is progressing toward that goal.
When this project started back in September, the idea was that we'd all join together once a week and plot the growth of a young quarterback.
There wasn't much hope that Mark Sanchez would suddenly take a flying leap into the upper echelon, but there was an expectation that there would be enough little things -- a smart throw here, a good decision there -- that you'd end the year with an unshakable sense that things were moving in the right direction. Things did not work out that way.
Sunday's season-ending loss to the Dolphins was a long illustration of how far Sanchez didn't come this season. He threw three interceptions, each one showing less understanding and feel for the game than the one before, and there wasn't one moment when Sanchez appeared to have control of an offense that has gone completely off the rails.
Of course, we now know that some of that has to do with the toxic presence that Santonio Holmes created within the team and the story about his behavior during a meeting with Sanchez last week certainly makes you sympathetic for the quarterback. It also makes you wonder about Sanchez's fitness to lead since you can't really imagine something similar happening to Tom Brady, Drew Brees or any other quarterback who truly leads their team.
And there's also the Brian Schottenheimer issue complicating matters. Play callers can get an unfair amount of criticism for their work, since it is, after all, players who need to execute, but there is no doubt that Sanchez is not progressing while playing for Schottenheimer nor is there any doubt that Schottenheimer has chosen odd ways to use Sanchez.
Thus far in his career, Sanchez has shown an ability to do two things -- rolling out and throwing off play action -- really well as a quarterback.
Schottenheimer didn't give Sanchez much opportunity to do those things and some of his game plans, most notably the one against the Giants, made you wonder if Schottenheimer was actively trying to humiliate Sanchez.
Blaming Schottenheimer only gets you so far, though. Quarterbacks need to do more than two things well to succeed.
As we saw in the Miami game, Sanchez struggles to complete checkdowns without turning the ball over and there are blind rabbits with more field awareness. You can make many excuses for Sanchez, we haven't even mentioned a substandard offensive line yet, but none of them come close to explaining away Sanchez's performance.
Right now, it looks like Sanchez is going to be back next season. There will be an endless stream of Peyton Manning chatter and other names will be thrown into the mix as challengers or insurance policies, but it is more likely than not that we'll be back here in September wondering the same things about Sanchez.
Can he grow? Quarterbacks from Terry Bradshaw to Phil Simms have done it before, so it is certainly possible.
The question is how likely it is that Sanchez will take the strides we hoped to see this season and, based on what the Jets have said publicly, it doesn't feel like it will be easy. If Holmes and Schottenheimer are both staying, there will essentially be the same mix at the center of an offense that simply didn't work.
Doing the same thing and expecting a different outcome is not a recipe for success, especially when the pressure to produce has never been more enormous.
While you can't predict what will happen in 2012 with so many things still in the air, we do know this much: Next season will start with the same questions about Sanchez, but it is going to end with a definitive answer about his ability to be an NFL quarterback.