New York Jets coach Rex Ryan pulled quarterback Mark Sanchez from a few plays Monday and Tuesday, reducing him to a spectator as 41-year-old Mark Brunell briefly ran the first-team offense. Sanchez wouldn't say it, but his short answers made it clear he wasn't pleased.
"That's the coach's decision," he said Tuesday.
It's a move the superstitious Rex Ryan has gone with before, resorting to a tactic that worked on the young quarterback last season. An irritated Sanchez played some of his best games after Ryan took away some snaps, and the Jets (5-5) are hoping for the same result.
"I don't think it really matters," Ryan said, "but for some reason, he got a little hot under the collar and gave that super-competitive fighting spirit that we know he has."
Sanchez sat for some snaps in practice late last season after a two-game losing streak — which the Jets are mired in now — and rebounded with crisp play and exceptional decision-making all the way to a second straight AFC title game. Sanchez later told GQ magazine that he was so angry at Ryan for saying he considered benching him that he "wanted to fight" his coach.
"If it takes me to do this and take a punch in the nose, I don't care," Ryan said Tuesday. "I'll take it, but we have to have it from him. He's the guy. He's my guy and we have to have it from him. Everybody has to play that way and I just love when (he's like that). When he's that way, we're extremely hard to beat."
Clearly, there's no quarterback controversy brewing. Sanchez will be under center against Buffalo (5-5) on Sunday in a game both teams desperately need to keep pace in the AFC playoff race. He's also not getting benched anytime soon.
"He's our quarterback, but don't even write that," a smiling Ryan said. "Let him think it."
Brunell said he got two snaps with the starters Monday, and four Tuesday — with three of them handoffs. That's hardly a big dent when it comes to the overall workload at practice, but many thought Sanchez would be beyond motivational ploys at this point. Instead, he's struggling and his critics are increasing. Still, Sanchez insisted Ryan's latest mind game didn't bother him.
"I guess maybe last year it did, I don't know," Sanchez said. "That's Rex's deal."
Sanchez refused to leave the huddle during a similar situation last season. This time, he just stepped aside without a fuss.
"I've been through it before," he said. "There's no point."
But Ryan said it was obvious to him that his quarterback was a bit miffed.
"Oh, gee, look at his body language," Ryan said, laughing. "He hasn't talked to me, for real. He has not said one word."
Since last week?
"Not to me," Ryan said.
Sanchez denied that he's not talking to Ryan.
"At least, not on purpose," the quarterback said, adding that he didn't know where Ryan got the idea his quarterback is mad at him.
The two actually don't normally meet until later in the week, when they review the game plan and chat about football, among other things.
The bottom line is that the Jets just need to start winning, and a lot of that starts with Sanchez's play. His statistics are actually better in several major categories than they were at this point in his first two seasons, but he has yet to take the next step in a progression observers have expected.
Sanchez has thrown for 2,333 yards and 14 touchdowns, but also has 10 interceptions — two of which have been returned for touchdowns in New York's last two losses. The most recent ill-advised toss came in the Jets' 17-13 loss at Denver on Thursday, when the Broncos' Andre Goodman stepped in front of a pass intended for Plaxico Burress and took the momentum from New York.
"I take more responsibility for that for him," Burress said, "because I could have come back more to the football instead of falling out of the break."
Sanchez, to his credit, has shouldered a lot of the blame for the team's woes, particularly on offense. That has led to fans and many media members questioning whether the former first-round draft pick can ever lead the Jets to the Super Bowl.
"This is New York City," Burress said. "You have to understand this town and the way things go. I think he'll be fine. Playing in this business and playing in this market, you have to have thick skin. You can't have rabbit ears. ... I wouldn't have made a decision to come play with him if I didn't think he had that potential and have that commitment to go out and be a great quarterback."
His teammates believe in him. So, do his coaches. Sanchez simply needs to deliver.
"I'll just keep getting better and keep preparing like I am," Sanchez said, "and make good decisions when the time comes."
Based on reporting by the Associated Press.