Mark Sanchez spent the early morning hours on his 28th birthday eating cheesesteaks, taking selfies with fans and celebrating a victory following his first start in nearly two years.
Sanchez threw for 332 yards and two touchdowns to lead the Philadelphia Eagles to a 45-21 win over the Carolina Panthers on Monday night. Afterward, he drove to Pat's King of Steaks and Geno's Steaks to sample two of the most popular versions of the city's iconic sandwich.
Fans were thrilled to see the winning quarterback at both places and immediately posted pictures on social media sites.
"That's just the type of guy that Mark is – he's just a regular guy," coach Chip Kelly said Tuesday.
Sanchez might be a regular guy, but he has a city's Super Bowl aspirations on his shoulders.
"I think when you take a step back, you appreciate it so much and you miss it so much," Sanchez said. "I just kept telling myself when I was out that if I get a chance to get back out there, I don't ever want to be out again until I retire. I want to keep playing. You just have so much respect for this whole thing and the preparation and what goes into it. I'm just happy to be in the system that we have here with so many good offensive coaches."
The Eagles are 7-2 after dismantling the defending NFC South champion Panthers before a national audience. Prime-time games have brought out the best in the Eagles this season. They beat Andrew Luck and the Colts in Indianapolis on Monday night in Week 2. They shut out Eli Manning and the New York Giants, 27-0, on Sunday night in Week 6.
Despite missing their offensive leader (Nick Foles) and defensive captain (DeMeco Ryans), the Eagles didn't miss a beat against Carolina. The defense dominated and scored its fourth touchdown of the season. Special teams chipped in with its fifth TD.
Sanchez had one of the best games of his career – he had never thrown for more than 265 yards without an interception until Monday. But he still has room for improvement.
"There are plenty of things to clean up," Sanchez said. "I don't care how many yards we threw for, there are a couple out there that I can't miss and a couple reads that I need to be much better at. So by no means is it perfect."
The offense racked up most of the yards through the air. LeSean McCoy had only 19 yards rushing on 12 carries after breaking 100 yards in two of his past three games. The Eagles finished with 37 yards rushing, their second-worst total this season.
"We didn't play well offensively at all," Kelly said. "I just didn't think we were very consistent overall. I think we could have sustained some drives. We missed a couple key conversions on short-yardage situations that we didn't convert. I think that if you asked the guys on the offensive side of the ball, they felt like they didn't play well. I believe we didn't really play up to our potential on the offensive side of the ball."
Yet the offense still scored 31 points, though turnovers helped.
The Eagles are a half-game ahead of Dallas as they continue their quest to repeat as NFC East champs. They have a tough task on Sunday at Green Bay against Aaron Rodgers and the Packers (6-3).
"We have a huge challenge ahead. We definitely have to get after Aaron Rodgers," linebacker Brandon Graham said. "We can't give him lanes to run through because he can definitely beat you with his legs, too."