Confident Sanchez looks to lead Jets into playoffs

Mark Sanchez is feeling confident these days, and that’s good

news for the New York Jets.

Forget all the struggles with turnovers and head-scratching

decisions by the rookie quarterback this season. Sanchez has the

Jets a win away from the playoffs, and he insists he can deliver in

the biggest test of his young NFL career.

“Maybe it came too late, but it was time to really make a jump

as a rookie and start to not play like a rookie anymore,” Sanchez

said Wednesday. “Have I arrived? Absolutely not. Do I feel totally

comfortable and know everything that’s going on and am I trying?

Absolutely.”

That’s what his teammates want to hear. Against Indianapolis

last week, Sanchez was just 12 for 19 for 104 yards, but had no

turnovers in the 29-15 victory. That came a week after a

three-interception game against Atlanta.

“It’s time to take a step and when they kind of just dangle the

carrot in front of you, and say, ‘If you win this game, you’re

going to the playoffs,’ I have to do everything I possibly can,”

he said. “That’s what last week felt like. I think this week is

only going to be better if we prepare like we know how and perform

like we know how.”

That means keeping the mistakes to a minimum, like last

week.

“We have a chance to be very good and do some special things,”

Sanchez said of being error-free.

The magnitude of this week’s game is not lost on Sanchez, who

relishes the chance to lead the team into the postseason with a win

over Cincinnati in what could be the last game played at Giants

Stadium.

“The next few games, this one and, if we win, all the games

after that are like the Rose Bowl times 10, at least,” the former

Southern California star said, “if not times 100.”

Coach Rex Ryan lined his team up at practice Wednesday and asked

the players who have made the playoffs to step forward. About 15 or

20 players came forward before half of them stepped back when Ryan

asked for those who have made the postseason in multiple years.

Then, Ryan asked for guys who have made the playoffs three times,

and even fewer remained.

“It was like, ‘Whoa,”’ Sanchez said. “If you don’t understand

how special this is, look at all of these guys. How long have they

been playing? … This ain’t the week to be celebrating New Year’s.

It’s not that time. It’s time to focus and play, and win and

in.”

Sanchez, who started only 16 games in college, is about to play

in his 15th in the NFL – with lots at stake.

“To come as far as we have as a team and make good decisions

last week, I think it’s just about building on it and not really

being worried about the magnitude of the game,” he said. “The

field is going to be the same size, the ball’s the same size. It’s

up to me to make great decisions and put the team first.”

While plenty of attention will be placed on Sanchez’s every

move, he insists this game is about a lot more than just trying to

end his rookie season on a good note.

“This isn’t what my career is about,” he said. “This isn’t

about what my first season is. I’ll be remembered if we make the

playoffs. If not, it’s another rookie who couldn’t make the

playoffs and couldn’t do it. It has nothing to do with me. … I’m

not worried about what happens to me. I just want to win this

game.”

Linebacker Bart Scott thinks Sanchez will benefit from playing

at home in such a crucial game.

“At least he’s in a safe environment,” Scott said. “Last

week, early on, that was a playoff environment. It was a must-win,

had to win to stay alive and I think he can take those experiences

and really lean on those to really help him in this game. You know,

he’s been in the playoffs for us the last two weeks. In essence,

he’s been getting prepared for this moment the last couple of

weeks.”

Ryan saw up close how a rookie quarterback can succeed under

playoff pressure, as Baltimore’s Joe Flacco did last season while

getting the Ravens within a win of the Super Bowl.

“There’s very few rookie quarterbacks that have come down the

road that are in this position, that help put their teams in this

situation,” Ryan said. “You know, I’m excited about it. I think

he’s getting better. I think he understands what we need out of

him. We need him to play the quarterback position efficiently and I

think Mark understands that.”

Sanchez insists he certainly does.

“I feel like I’ve come a long way,” he said. “Last week

really helped with just my confidence and knowing what they are

teaching me, what I’m practicing, what I’m studying, is really

working.”