FOXBORO, Mass. — Geno Smith was on the field hours before his Jets kicked off against the Patriots on Thursday night, his long-sleeved white T-shirt billowing in the breeze as he warmed up his arm. Backups Brady Quinn and Matt Simms eventually joined him, but for the second straight week of this infant NFL season, Mark Sanchez couldn’t do the same.
And now that it seems we have confirmation Sanchez’s shoulder injury is more severe than the ridiculous “day to day” description the Jets have been feeding us since he was injured in a preseason game against the Giants, the possibility of Sanchez ever taking field for the Jets again is remote. With various reports confirming an initial ESPN story that Sanchez has a small tear in his labrum and is mulling whether to continue an aggressive rehab regimen or opt for surgery, there is a real possibility Sanchez’s season is over.
Or maybe it’s not.
In a case of “the Sanchise” versus “the franchise,” it has become increasingly obvious we are not heading toward an amicable split between the Jets and the quarterback they once made a draft-day move up to acquire.
Sanchez made it defiantly clear he is not willing to let the Jets push him out the door before he’s ready, telling the NFL Network on Thursday that no surgery is planned on his shoulder, meaning no trip to injured reserve is imminent, meaning he hasn’t given up on returning this season.
“I’m rehabbing my ass off to try and make it back, and that’s where my head’s at,” Sanchez told network anchor Rich Eisen. “There is no plan for surgery at this time.”
But it was Sanchez’s subsequent assertion that he was certain he’d beaten out the rookie Smith in the Jets’ ongoing quarterback competition that did a better job peeling away the many layers of tension between him and the Jets. Clearly, the “Sanchise” isn’t very happy with the franchise anymore, even while it pays him more than $8 million in guaranteed money to watch from the sidelines this year.
“What I’m really disappointed about is that I got hurt, because I won the competition,” Sanchez said in the interview.
When Eisen asked him, “Do you feel you won the competition?” Sanchez answered, “There’s no doubt. It was a done deal.”
Of course no one around the Jets ever said that was the case, even though it appeared Sanchez had taken a slight edge in the preseason, particularly as Smith struggled with a bum ankle. But once coach Rex Ryan threw and unprepared and unprotected Sanchez into the fourth quarter of a preseason game, the narrative flipped. Crushed when defensive tackle Marvin Austin blew threw an overmatched second-string offensive line, Sanchez was relegated to a life of MRIs, therapy appointments and clipboard-carrying Sundays.
Meanwhile, the Jets clung to their insistence that the depth-chart contest waged on, pushing their competitiveness agenda so far that Smith has yet to earn any public assurance he’s anything more than a week-to-week starter, and continuing to describe Sanchez’s status as “day to day” even though medical reports had to be telling them otherwise.
Whatever the truth, Sanchez’s time with the Jets feels over, even if it would take a surgery appointment to make it official. It sure felt fitting to have the speculation swirl on a field a few hours north of Florham Park, against a division rival that has at different times made Sanchez look unbeatable and unwatchable.
That the air of finality would settle over Sanchez inside Foxboro’s walls felt fitting, in a stadium already host to his best and worst moments in green. From regular-season embarrassment to playoff euphoria to butt-fumble infamy, Sanchez experienced the highest of highs and the lowest of lows, all against the Patriots. There never was much middle ground when it came to his games against New England, and wherever his football road takes him from here, the extremes of those games will follow him.
Especially the butt-fumble.