New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez can make NFL history if the Jets defeat the Pittsburgh Steelers Sunday in Pittsburgh to reach the Super Bowl. Sanchez, in just his second year,has already won four playoff road games, tied with Len Dawson, Jake Delhomme, Joe Flacco and Roger Stauback for the most playoff road wins by a starting quarterback in NFL history.
Does that make Sanchez lucky? Good? A guy who has been in the right place at the right time? All of the above? Besides which, does any of that really matter.
"These playoff wins are not easy to come by," says Sanchez, who has defeated Pro Bowl quarterbacks Peyton Manning and Tom Brady in this year's postseason. "I'm proud of the fact that I got drafted by a great team and I've had the opportunity to play in these big games."
Sanchez' overall playoff record is 4-1 in his two seasons.
"He just keeps getting better and better," said Jets head coach Rex Ryan. "He's only been in the league for two years, and like I said last year, he's not going to be looked at as the weakness of the team, but as the strength."
Sanchez went through the typical ups and downs of a young quarterback in his second season, throwing 17 touchdown passes, 13 interceptions, completing only 54.8 percent of his passes and finishing with only a 75.3 quarterback rating.
In two playoff games, however, he has completed 34-of-56 passes (60.7 percent). Last week against New England he was 16-of-25 for three touchdowns, no interceptions and a quarterback rating of 127.3.
"I think the biggest stat is you look at the wins and all that, and fourth-quarter comebacks. I don't know the numbers - you guys know a lot more about it than I would - but he's had plenty. I think that whether it's clutch or whether it's confidence, he has it," Ryan said. "I think that's a hard skill to develop. I think you either have it or you don't. As a little kid he probably had it; I'm not sure. You'd have to ask Nick, his dad. I'm sure he's had it, and I bet you he's won at every sport: baseball, basketball, whatever it is. Because the great ones, the competitors, find ways to win and I think Mark is that kind of guy."
Sanchez is following a similar path to the other Super Bowl winning quarterback who inhabits New York City -- Eli Manning of the New York Giants. In his third full season as a starter Manning won a Super Bowl MVP by shooting down Jeff Garcia, Tony Romo, Brett Favre and Brady as the Giants won a championship. All of those quarterbacks were considered better than Manning at the time.
Sanchez has thus far gotten through the Peyton Manning-Brady gauntlet. Ben Roethlisberger of Pittsburgh awaits this weekend. Possibly, Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers after that.
"The sky is the limit for this guy," said Jets running back LaDainian Tomlinson. "He is a guy who constantly gets better and he plays his best football in the most critical situations. That's what you want in your quarterback. If you're down in the fourth quarter, he can put a drive together to go up and win the game. He seems to play his best football at those times. That's all you can ask from a guy who is at the quarterback position."
Lucky? Good? Doesn't matter. Sanchez has shown he can win, and that he can make the throws he has to make at the most critical times (like the touchdown pass to Santonio Holmes last week against New England). That is all that is important.