Jet QB Sanchez says he needs to be ‘thick-skinned’

The doubts and criticisms are piling up, and Mark Sanchez knows

it.

The struggling New York Jets quarterback is trying not to let it

all affect his confidence.

”That’s the way it is,” Sanchez said Wednesday. ”You’re a

hero when you win, and you’re the goat when you lose.”

It’s been that kind of season for Sanchez, who drew comparisons

to Joe Namath earlier this year when he went through the first five

games without throwing an interception and led the Jets to a 9-2

start.

That talk has pretty much stopped, especially after his last few

outings. Sanchez was nearly benched in his last game, a dismal

performance in New York’s 10-6 loss to Miami last Sunday.

”You have to be mentally tough,” Sanchez said. ”It’s a good

challenge for me early in my career where people might doubt, even

in the building.”

Is he sensing his coaches, teammates and others are not

believing in him right now?

”I don’t know, it could happen,” he said. ”It’s a tough

business. You’ve got to be thick-skinned. I just need to be ready

to play.”

That starts with a tough matchup at Pittsburgh on Sunday, when

the Jets (9-4) take on the Steelers (10-3) and try to end a

two-game losing streak.

”These are the kind of situations you want to play for,”

Sanchez said. ”You don’t want to be on a losing team and play

another losing team. That’s not what you want. This really tests

your mettle and this is a good opportunity for us.”

Sanchez has thrown five interceptions and only one touchdown in

his last three games, and coach Rex Ryan considered yanking him in

the third quarter against the Dolphins.

”It’s something that can’t rattle you as a starter,” Sanchez

said. ”I’m the guy and the offensive guys rally around me. That’s

always going to be Rex’s decision. It’s his prerogative. He says

who the quarterback is. As long as it’s me, I’m playing my heart

out for the team and I think the guys know that.”

His teammates have said Sanchez isn’t the only reason the Jets’

offense has failed to score a touchdown in nearly 2 1/2 games. Ryan

also issued a vote of confidence Monday, saying ”he’s our

quarterback, he’s my quarterback.”

But, that doesn’t mean Ryan wouldn’t consider actually sending

Sanchez to the bench.

”I’ll always do what’s in the best interests of the football

team,” Ryan said. ”Do I think that’s a real possibility? I think

Mark Sanchez is our quarterback. If he really has struggled for

whatever reason, would I make a move? Yes, if I thought it was the

best thing for our team.”

The Jets have no quarterback controversy, especially since they

have few options. Forty-year-old Mark Brunell is the backup, but

acts more like a player-coach. Kellen Clemens is the No. 3

quarterback, a former starter who has played in four less games

than Sanchez.

”I go into the game with a positive attitude and I’m not

thinking of getting pulled at any time,” Sanchez said. ”I’m ready

to play and if Rex makes a decision like that, we’ll all live with

it.”

Sanchez’s 74.2 quarterback rating is the worst in the AFC, and

ranks above only Brett Favre’s 69.6 and Derek Anderson’s 65.9 among

players who have at least 250 attempts.

Both Ryan and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer have

talked about Sanchez needing to improve his fundamentals, which

have slipped since the middle of the season when he was playing

well. Sanchez sees it, too.

”You watch the film and say, ‘Come on. You’ve got to have two

hands on the ball. That’s too easy,”’ Sanchez said. ”It’s one

thing to go through a tough read or get fooled by a defense, but

something that you can control, you want to get that right. As

frustrating as it is, it just needs to be fixed. That’s the focus

and that’ll be the emphasis this week.”

It has to be, considering the Steelers’ defense is ranked fourth

overall, including No. 1 against the run, so the Jets will need

Sanchez to be able to throw at times. Protecting him will also be

key for the offensive line, which will face a tough pass rush while

being without starting right tackle Damien Woody, who’s out with a

knee injury.

”Now is the time to really stick to the game plan and really

just be smart with the way you go about moving in the pocket,

hanging on to the ball, your footwork and all that,” Sanchez said.

”I guess things can get away from you when you’re trying to win

games down the stretch and doing stuff at the end of games to win,

but it’s important to stay focused even in those tough times.”