Since the New York Jets collapse in the 2011 regular season, there’s been a lot of finger pointing in the organization as to what went wrong. And a lot of that blame game has fallen onto quarterback Mark Sanchez. Now, regardless of the fact that “anonymous teammates” have ripped on Sanchez for being lazy, many people have thought for a while that Sanchez isn’t a viable starting quarterback in the NFL. I am one of those people. And before I get into why I don’t think Sanchez should be the Jets starting quarterback, I am going to take sides with those “anonymous teammates” of his and agree that Peyton Manning, if healthy, should become the Jets starting quarterback for 2012 (more on that in a moment).
But first, back to Sanchez. He played college football at USC and started a total of 16 games over three seasons–not including his freshman year when he redshirted–in that span. In 2007, Sanchez started three games for the Trojans filling in for starter John David Booty who was injured. So his only real season as a full-time starter was 2008, when he started all 13 games for the Trojans. His stats that year were pretty impressive: he went 241 of 366 (65.8%) for 3,207 yards passing, and threw 34 touchdowns to only 10 interceptions. But he should’ve listened to then-head coach Pete Carroll, who advised him that he shouldn’t declare for the NFL Draft and that he should play another year at USC, told him it would be tough to leave early. But Sanchez didn’t listen and left USC anyway for the NFL. Subsequently, the New York Jets, who needed a new quarterback after Brett Favre “retired” after one season with them, drafted Sanchez with the fifth overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft.
So to sum this up: the Jets picked a quarterback who started only one season in college and had good numbers playing for a powerhouse program (can anybody say one-hit wonder?).
In three seasons with the Jets, Sanchez hasn’t been very good, although he has improved year-by-year. His regular season statistics in those seasons have been average: 782 of 1,414 (55.3%) for 9,209 yards passing, with 55 touchdowns and 51 interceptions, and a career quarterback rating of 73.2. His overall record in three seasons as a starter is 27-20. In his first two seasons, the Jets went 9-7 and 11-5, respectively, made the playoffs as a wild card team and made it to the AFC Championship Game and lost both years. However, his postseason statistics would make it appear as though he is an upper-echelon quarterback. In six postseason games Sanchez is 95 of 157 (60.5%) for 1,155 yards passing, with nine touchdowns and just three interceptions, and a quarterback rating of 94.3. His playoff record is an impressive 4-2 considering the fact that he’s never played a home playoff game in those two postseasons. Having a great defense has helped Sanchez, especially in the playoffs, but he lacks one key trait for a quarterback: consistency. Sanchez’s statistics in the regular season show his lack of consistency, and that has carried over into some of those playoff games where the Jets have relied more on their defense than they have Sanchez. It also doesn’t help having to play the New England Patriots twice a year, where Sanchez and the Jets are 2-4 over three seasons (but 1-0 in the playoffs), which is a reason why they never win the AFC East and secure home playoff games–Sanchez and the Jets are not consistent against the Patriots. A perfect example of that are these statistics of Sanchez in his six regular season games against them: he has four touchdowns and no interceptions in two wins, but four touchdowns and nine interceptions in four losses.
So the question is, who can the Jets start at quarterback that is not only more consistent, but who can also get them past the Patriots for the division title, secure home playoff games and ultimately reach the Super Bowl?
Answer: Peyton Manning.
Peyton Manning, who will be 36 years old by the time the 2012 season starts, is a much better answer to the Jets quarterback problems if he is healthy (“if he is healthy” being the very key words here). But if he is, Manning will more likely than not return as the elite, MVP-quality quarterback that he has been for the past decade.
Manning’s list of accolades may be longer than any other quarterback in NFL history. To name a few, that have benefited his team, are all the more reasons for the Jets to sign him. In nine seasons from 2002-2010, Manning led the Colts to the playoffs every one of those seasons, including seven division titles, and an NFL record seven straight seasons with 12 or more wins. The Colts also reached two Super Bowls and won one of them. During that span, Manning was named to the Pro Bowl every season, named an All-Pro six times, and won four MVP awards.
What does that all tell us? That Manning’s consistent, high-level of play has made his team successful year in and year out. He’s never had the greatest running backs or defense to back him up, and he’s made receivers like Brandon Stokley and Pierre Garcon better because of him. With the Jets, they have a top-ten defense, a good group of running backs, and one of the best receivers in Santonio Holmes. Manning’s quarterback skills, along with his leadership, would make the entire Jets team better, just like how Manning was able to make the entire Colts team better. We all know what happened to the Colts without Manning–a pitiful 2-14 season that started off 0-13.
More recently, with the public back-and-forth between Manning and Colts owner Jim Irsay, it seems more and more likely that Manning won’t be back with the team even if he is healthy (although both sides say they are “on the same page”). I’ve read many ideas and speculations as to where Manning would end up if he doesn’t retire, and the two teams I’ve seen talked about the most are the Miami Dolphins and San Francisco 49ers. But I still firmly believe the Jets would be a more suitable team for Manning than the Dolphins or 49ers.
The Dolphins, even with former Green Bay Packers offensive coordinator Joe Philbin as the new head coach, aren’t ready to be a Super Bowl contender yet. And if they’re going to get Manning, they need more than just Brandon Marshall at receiver. Yes, Manning would definitely be an improvement and make the other receivers better, but he at least needs some better talent around him, especially if he is actually going to sign with a different team just for the short-term future.
The 49ers already have Alex Smith, who has grown into a franchise quarterback and not just a “game manager” under new head coach Jim Harbaugh. Plus, Smith will be 28 at the start of next season and is the better choice for the long-term future. The 49ers are going to be contending for years and they lost the NFC Championship Game to the New York Giants on a special teams fumble in overtime that set the Giants up in great field position, so it’s not like Smith isn’t getting the job done for them; he did lead the team on two game-winning drives late in the fourth quarter against the New Orleans Saints one week prior. Also, there’s going to be questions about how Manning would have to follow Harbaugh’s play calling after being so accustomed to basically running the offense himself while in Indianapolis.
The Jets are still the best available option for Manning. He would give the team the best possible chance to fulfill head coach Rex Ryan’s yearly prediction of the Jets making it to the Super Bowl. And from a football fan’s view, the Patriots-Jets rivalry is one of the best and would only be better with two, and possibly three, Brady-Manning matchups during the season. And even though Manning's little brother Eli is on the Jets' city-rival Giants, what better way for the Jets to take back control of New York than to land Peyton?
I know it’s simply speculation, and I know it’s hard to imagine Peyton Manning playing for any other team other than the Indianapolis Colts, but crazier things have happened. Joe Montana went from the 49ers to the Kansas City Chiefs. Brett Favre went from the Packers to the Jets and Minnesota Vikings. And Manning could (and should) go to the Jets. If both parties want to win a championship right now, then this is the best possible way to go about it.