A NFL team drafts a quarterback in the first round for one of two reasons. First, and most common, is that the franchise is rebuilding and didn’t have a successful season the prior year. A perfect example was Matt Ryan with the Atlanta Falcons in 2008. The second reason is that the franchise has an aging quarterback and wants to be patient in grooming its quarterback of the future. A situation like the Green Bay Packers did with Aaron Rodgers is proof of this philosophy.
For the New York Jets none of these rules apply, and on Sunday Mark Sanchez became the first rookie quarterback since Pro Football Hall of Famer Roger Staubach to start on Kickoff Weekend for a team that finished the previous season with a winning record.
It should be noted that the difference between Staubach in 1969 and Sanchez in 2009 is that Roger “The Dodger” started in place of the injured veteran Craig Morton, who eventually returned and lead the Cowboys to the playoffs. Meanwhile, the Jets firmly implanted their rookie passer and will go only as far as Sanchez takes them this year. But that seemed to be the only difference during these two quarterback’s first starts.
Sanchez’s first pass came on New York’s opening possession. Faced with a 2nd and 13, his pass fell incomplete as he tried to hook up with wide receiver Chanci Stuckey. Three series later Sanchez and Stuckey found success when the rookie QB connected with the third-year receiver for a 30-yard touchdown strike. With a strong supporting cast Sanchez looked ready to lead as he finished the day by completing 18 of 31 passes for 272 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions. The Jets topped the Texans 24-7.
Staubach flashed a glimpse of his Hall of Fame talent by throwing his first of 153 career touchdown passes on a 75-yard play to wide receiver Lance Rentzel on the team’s third series of his first NFL start on September 21, 1969. Staubach finished the game 7 of 15 for 220 yards, one TD and was not intercepted. He also rushed 4 times for 22 yards and one TD (3 yards) to lead the Cowboys over the St. Louis Cardinals 24-3.
While Sanchez may have matched the play of one Hall of Fame quarterback, he got a boost from another Hall of Fame quarterback moments before his first NFL start. Jets’ legend Joe Namath offered Sanchez some encouraging words just minutes before the opening kickoff on Sunday.
"What a pep talk," a beaming Sanchez said. "That was Joe Namath, just taking all the credit from himself and throwing it back to me and just saying, 'Good luck.' To hear that from a legend like that, it just kind of gives you the chills. It was something special to be a part of, an emotional start, an emotional little pep talk."
Namath’s first action with the Jets came on September 18, 1965 against the Kansas City Chiefs during the second week of the season. Namath took over the reins late in the second quarter. Appropriately, his first NFL completion went to Hall of Fame teammate Don Maynard. The duo hooked up on an 18-yard pass play. Midway through the fourth quarter, Namath threw his first TD pass, a 37-yard strike, to Maynard. He finished the game 11 of 23 for 121 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions in the Jets loss to the Chiefs 14-10.
Sanchez may have outplayed Namath when you compare their first regular season game action, but there is no question the New York Jets hope Mark Sanchez can lead them where no quarterback before or after Namath has taken them...a Super Bowl victory.
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