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NFL WEEK 12 STORY LINES

Mark Sanchez is turning practices into reality

New York Jets quarterback's work on down-to-the-wire drills is paying off during games.

November 23, 2010|By Sam Farmer

Mark Sanchez leads the New York Jets to comeback victories all the time — the clock winding down, the crowd ringing in his ears, the do-or-die pressure … And then another day of practice is over.

"I can't tell you how many times we've worked on the throws, worked on the situations with timeouts," Sanchez said Tuesday. "We've put it up on the scoreboard. It's a mock situation. [Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer] is on the headset. We put the crowd noise in there. It's about as real as it gets."

This season, all that work is paying off. For the first time in his football career — counting high school and USC — Sanchez has won games in the fourth quarter or overtime.

The Jets, who play host to Cincinnati on Thanksgiving, followed consecutive overtime victories at Detroit and Cleveland with a rollicking fourth-quarter comeback victory over Houston at home, clinched when Sanchez threw a six-yard touchdown pass to Santonio Holmes with 10 seconds to play.

"I've never had a comeback until this year, not once," said Sanchez, who also directed comeback victories at Denver in Week 6 and at Detroit in Week 9. "Lost two in college. Lost them all last year. So this is the first time I've really done it …

"I know that was kind of a knock coming out of college, that, 'He's never had a comeback in a game. They've been up. He hasn't played a lot of football.' To me, that was, 'All right, give me a chance to come back. I'm going to win it — not making a miraculous play, but just making the plays we know how to make.' "

NFL Network analyst Joe Theismann, who will work Thursday's game broadcast, said Sanchez "has grown tremendously" in his second season, and that Sanchez and Schottenheimer could wind up with the same kind of productive quarterback-coordinator relationship that Indianapolis' Peyton Manning and Tom Moore enjoyed for so many years.

Like their mirror-image records, the Jets (8-2) and Bengals (2-8) are teams heading in opposite directions. New York has won eight of nine and is tied with New England atop the AFC East. Cincinnati, at the bottom of the AFC North, has the league's longest losing streak, seven games.

This matchup also pits two former USC quarterbacks — Sanchez and the player he has long called a mentor, Carson Palmer.

When it comes to comebacks — if only in practice — Sanchez has always tried to emulate someone else: Hall of Fame member John Elway.

"Elway has always been one of my favorites," he said. "He's tough. He'll make plays with his legs. He just seems like one of those guys that's a fighter, just never dies."

Other Week 12 games to watch:

New Orleans at Dallas: Having won his first two games as Dallas' interim coach, Jason Garrett faces his most difficult test. The Saints have won three games in a row and look to keep things rolling against the team that handed them their first defeat last season, blemishing their 13-0 record.

Green Bay at Atlanta: Two of the best young quarterbacks in football, Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers and Atlanta's Matt Ryan, square off in what could be a shootout. The Packers and Falcons are riding four-game winning streaks.

San Diego at Indianapolis: Just as Manning has done, San Diego's Philip Rivers is putting up big numbers with a hodgepodge group of no-name receivers. The Chargers should have Pro Bowl targets Antonio Gates and Vincent Jackson back for this one, though, and they have beaten the Colts in four of the last five meetings.

sam.farmer@latimes.com

twitter.com/LATimesfarmer

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