Mark Sanchez has his sights set on returning to the field this season — as the New York Jets’ starting quarterback.
Well, at least in a few months.
Sanchez was placed on short-term injured reserve Saturday, meaning he will not be able to play for the next eight weeks while he recovers from an injured right shoulder.
"As far as making a decision that’s best for the team and best for my medical health, we’re all on the same page," Sanchez said during a conference call. "I’ll come back, hopefully, in eight weeks and be ready to play."
Sanchez injured his right shoulder after replacing rookie Geno Smith in the fourth quarter of the team’s third preseason game against the Giants. He has opted to try to rehabilitate the injury rather than have season-ending surgery.
Sanchez acknowledged that surgery is a possibility, but doctors are encouraged by his rehab so far. Some fans and media have suggested that Sanchez should have the surgery immediately, since it seems inevitable that he will need to do so. But the quarterback called those opinions "laughable" since that’s not what the doctors have told him.
"They’ve said, `Hey, you’re doing the right thing,’" Sanchez said. "So, unless everybody is lying and everybody has it out to get me, I think we’re OK."
The exact nature of the injury has not been revealed by either Sanchez or the team, but some published reports say it is a partially torn labrum. Sanchez has been throwing passes left-handed during practices and was doing the same Thursday night before the team’s 13-10 loss to New England.
General manager John Idzik pointed out that Sanchez had a similar injury to his right shoulder in 2010, and didn’t miss any time. That’s why the team took an initial "day-to-day" approach before making this decision. Sanchez was examined by the team doctors, Dr. James Andrews and consulted with several others in the last week.
"After weighing all those, the consensus was that this was the proper thing to do," Idzik said.
By placing him on the IR-designated for return, Sanchez must miss the next six weeks of practice but can rehab with the team at the Jets’ facility and take part in team meetings. He won’t be able to play until after the Jets’ 10th game. The earliest Sanchez could be back is Nov. 17 at Buffalo, following the Jets’ bye week.
"I’m going to do everything I can to play and compete, like I always have," Sanchez said when asked if he feels he’s entitled to being the starter when he returns. "And, I expect to play. That’s just the way I am.
"I’m expecting to be the starter. I always have been."
Teams can place only one player on short-term IR per season. On Friday, coach Rex Ryan said it was very possible that Sanchez could be back.
"If we didn’t think it’d be realistic that Mark would get on the field, then he would be put on IR," Ryan said Friday. "And that’s not the case."
Smith has started the Jets’ first two games and it appears will continue to be under center while Sanchez is sidelined. Matt Simms and Brady Quinn are the other quarterbacks on the roster. Idzik maintained his stance that the team looks only at the upcoming game, so he would not commit to Smith as the starting quarterback for the rest of the season.
Sanchez appeared to have an edge in the tightly contested quarterback competition this summer after Smith struggled with three interceptions in the preseason game against the Giants. But, Ryan put Sanchez into the game in the fourth quarter of that game, and the quarterback took a crunching hit to his shoulder from Marvin Austin.
Ryan has been heavily criticized for that decision, but Sanchez has never publicly criticized the coach.
"My personal opinion, and I don’t know if anyone else agrees with me, but I don’t think you heal right if you hold grudges," Sanchez said. "That negative stuff doesn’t help."
Ryan has insisted that despite assumptions, Sanchez had not won the quarterback competition at that point. In fact, the coach has never announced a winner for the job.
Sanchez, however, said in an interview with NFL Network on Thursday that he felt he undoubtedly won the competition. He reiterated Saturday that he always believes he should be the starter.
The injury has clouded Sanchez’s future with the team, especially with the struggles he had the last two seasons with an NFL-leading 52 turnovers. But while Idzik wouldn’t commit to Sanchez being on the team beyond this season, he said the quarterback is "unequivocally a very important part of this team."
Sanchez, the team’s first-round pick in 2009, said has no plans to play anywhere but in New York.
"Absolutely, I’m a Jet," he said. "I’ve been a Jet since Day 1, and I don’t plan on doing anything else. I’m focused on this rehab and getting ready to play."