There hasn't been much about Mark Sanchez's short career that's been easy to figure out.
He couldn't seem to make a smart decision to save his life during the regular season, but suddenly became a savvy leader who threw daggers in all three playoff games. He's a good-looking, wealthy quarterback in the greatest city in the world, but spends most of his free time taking in Broadway musicals. This season of "Hard Knocks" has made it clear that his teammates love him, but they do so in the manner of a goofy little brother and not in the genuflecting way people relate to Peyton Manning.
The Jets don't really need Peyton Manning to win big this season. They don't even need Eli Manning. They just need a guy who isn't going to take the good things they do on defense and in the running game and make them meaningless because he can't hold onto the ball. The problem is that no one is sure he's capable of doing that.
As long as Darrelle Revis was absent, Sanchez got some cover from the worrying hearts of Jets Nation. Without Revis, worrying about Sanchez felt a bit like worrying about why the top on your convertible wouldn't go down in the middle of a hailstorm. There aren't any bigger issues anymore and there's no way Sanchez can escape the mammoth role he plays in this year's production of "Rex Ryan's Big Idea."
A Broadway buff like Sanchez surely appreciates that there's no understudy for this role and that the show can't go on without him. The Jets know it too, which is why they treated his rough preseason with kid gloves. Every interception was greeted with the pats on the back and warm embraces usually reserved for returning veterans and poor decisions were explained away as just part of the process for a kid who is making great progress.
It didn't look that way, it looked like the same player who helped put the Jets' backs up against the wall going into the final two weeks of the season. And it looked like the kind of player that history says Sanchez will be in his second season.
Sanchez is only the seventh first-round pick to make 15 or more starts at quarterback since 1970 and the good news is that most of the other ones have gone on to have pretty good careers. The problem is that most took a step backward in their second season, including Matt Ryan with the Falcons in 2009. Joe Flacco was in the spot last season and probably represents the best case scenario for Sanchez.
The Ravens used him conservatively on the way to the AFC title game as a rookie and then gave him more to do in 2009. They got rewarded with a very strong season. Flacco was better as a rookie than Sanchez, but a modest improvement along the same lines would serve the Jets very well in 2010.