Sunday night kicks off the third season of Mark Sanchez being under center for the New York Jets. Years one and two weren't too bad. Despite up and down play and production, Sanchez led Gang Green to the AFC title game in his rookie and sophomore seasons. But most will say, and correctly, that the main reason the Jets made their two big playoff runs was because of their defense. But the days of the all-defense teams with "Just manage the game and don't screw up" quarterbacks winning Super Bowls are over. A very good defense remains a necessity (contrary to popular belief, you do not need a dominant defense - just look at the 2009 New Orleans Saints and 2006 Indianapolis Colts), but even more important is the play of the man under center.
Just take a look at the Super Bowl winners since 1992. The only teams to win Super Bowls since then without top-flight quarterbacks are the 2000 Ravens (Trent Dilfer) and the 2002 Buccaneers (Brad Johnson).The other quarterbacks to win titles since 1992 are: Troy Aikman, Steve Young, Brett Favre, John Elway, Kurt Warner, Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger, Peyton Manning, Eli Manning, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers.
The '00 Ravens and '02 Bucs proved that you CAN win with a dominant defense and a mediocre offense, but history shows that the more likely route to a title is through a well-balanced team with a big time quarterback and a defense that comes up with timely plays. The Jets have that defense in place; their defense can dictate a game (see last year's AFC Divisional Round win over the Patriots). But imagine if the Jets had an elite quarterback the past two years? Would we be sitting here wondering if the Jets could defend their title?
Sanchez may not ever be Brady or Peyton Manning, but he could turn out to be better than Eli Manning. He already has a world's worth of more talent than Brad Johnson and Trent Dilfer. But the 2011 Jets, and the New York Jets going forward, need to be Sanchez's team. And it needs to start immediately, this Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys. This is the year that Sanchez needs to show that he is the true Jets leader on the field. The big plays need to come from his right arm.
The Jets are built to win this way, as much as Rex Ryan wants to shove the "ground and pound" down everybody's throats. Shonn Greene has not proved that he is a number one type of running back, and LaDainian Tomlinson is on his last legs. The Jets have one of the league's most explosive receivers in Santonio Holmes, and if Plaxico Burress is anywhere near what he was in 2007, the Jets have legitimate downfield weapons to go along with the chronically underused Dustin Keller at tight end.
The Jets need to let the shackles off and see what they truly have in Sanchez. They know, based on the past two years, that they can get to big games with Sanchez. What remains to be seen is if he can get them two more postseason victories than they got in 2009 and '10. History has shown that in order to win the biggest of them hall, he'll need to be great.