FLORHAM PARK, N.J. - Mark Sanchez was all business, no smiles and no sense of relief.
The New York Jets quarterback was a few days removed from one of the best games of his NFL career, and the celebration was already long over. "It was great on Sunday and Monday," Sanchez said, "but we're well beyond that."
Maybe so, but Sanchez was written off by many fans and media months ago, believed to be a lame-duck quarterback whose days under center for the Jets were numbered with Tim Tebow in town. Well, Sanchez sent a message to his critics with a terrific performance against the Buffalo Bills that left no doubt: He's the undisputed leader of this team. Other than an early interception on a tipped toss, Sanchez was nearly flawless in a 48-28 rout of the Bills. His numbers weren't gaudy or the stuff that fantasy football players dream about - 19 of 27 for 266 yards and three touchdowns - but Sanchez was in total control throughout.
"It was a good start," Sanchez said. "I admitted that after the game, no question. That's exactly what we wanted, a win, and how we got it was nice, but there's a long way to go, man. A long way."
For Sanchez, that means at least a trip to the playoffs after failing to get there for the first time in his three seasons a year ago. He took the brunt of the criticism, with many questioning whether he would ever truly become the franchisetype quarterback that coach Rex Ryan declared him to be the day the Jets traded up and drafted Sanchez in
Sanchez also took shots from fans, media and even anonymous teammates, who knocked his lack of leadership and failure to be the guy that everyone looked to to steady the ship.
Then came New York's brief flirtation with Peyton Manning, and the stunning trade for Tebow - even after giving Sanchez a contract extension and a vote of confidence. There were doom-andgloom forecasts for the two quarterbacks, with many saying there was no way they could co-exist and that Tebow would certainly take Sanchez's job at some point this season.
Sure, it's just one game, but Sanchez put all of that to rest for at least a week.
"There are probably a couple throws he wished he had back, but overall I thought he did a tremendous job," Ryan said. "You just saw that confidence and I saw it in the pregame. I'm not so sure I ever saw that before. I've seen him have some great pregames, but he was bouncing around and he was zipping it, so I sensed that he was really feeling it. He certainly played that way." Sanchez had plenty of doubters heading into the game, and a preseason in which he failed to lead the Jets into the end zone in three games didn't help things.
But Sanchez was moving the offense along so efficiently in the second quarter that the crowd at MetLife actually booed Tebow - yes, really - when he came in and failed to gain anything on a run that many thought might have disrupted the starting quarterback's rhythm.