Mark Sanchez is in serious distress

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Mark Sanchez was told his coach nearly benched him Sunday, and suddenly the cover boy quarterback projecting that California cool looked like a child just informed his Xbox privileges had been revoked.

The expression came and went in a millisecond -- a tightening of the jaw, a narrowing of the eyes -- but any amateur observer of human nature recognized the fleeting reaction for what it was: a sure sign of pain.

It hurt to hear it. One minute, Sanchez was the handsome face who would win the first Super Bowl title for the New York Jets since their last handsome face, Joe Namath, honored his own prophecy 42 years back.

The next minute, Rex Ryan was thinking the petrified remains of Mark Brunell would give the Jets a better chance to beat the Miami Dolphins on a miserable December day.

"Nothing changes from my standpoint," Sanchez said.

Except that everything changes. Never mind that Sanchez failed to lead a single touchdown drive for the second straight week, or that he couldn't outscore a Miami offense good for a grand total of six first downs, or that he allowed the dreadful likes of Chad Henne to beat him on the Jets' field while Henne went 5-for-18 for 55 yards.

Ryan is now on record questioning the leadership abilities of his franchise (no more "Sanchise") quarterback. More shocking than Ryan's willingness to share his doubts for public consumption was the fact that Ryan entertained those doubts to begin with.

Brunell is 40 years old, and hasn't thrown a meaningful pass since Al Gore discovered the Internet. Yet late in the third quarter of Miami's 10-6 victory, Ryan confessed that Brunell started looking like Steve Young in his prime.

"I considered it today," Ryan said of pulling Sanchez, "but when you look at it I think he gives us the best chance to win. That's how I felt. ... He's not the only one to blame here. If I thought that was the case, we would've yanked him."

Yanked him, simple as that.

Ryan wasn't the only prominent observer fretting over the quarterback. Around the same time the Jets' coach debated whether he should send Sanchez to the scout team, Namath called his audible via Twitter.

"Mark is beginning to scare me," Joe Willie tweeted.

Sanchez began to scare a full New Meadowlands Stadium house on his very first pass, one that should've been intercepted by Sean Smith. On his next third-down attempt, as if to prove his first throw wasn't a fluke, Sanchez found Smith on the opposite sideline, and this time the Miami cornerback held on.

Sanchez fumbled away his third possession, and spent the rest of the game bouncing the ball more than Raymond Felton bounced it Sunday at the Garden.

"It makes you sick," the quarterback said.

And frightened. The Jets don't dare to dream of a division title and a No. 1 seed in the AFC tournament anymore. After their emasculation in Foxborough, after this rain-soaked surrender to Miami, the Jets are a humbled and humiliated mess, a team starting to sound like Jim Mora on the subject of the playoffs.

"We keep this up, we'll miss this thing," Sanchez said. "We easily can play our way out of it if we don't play well."

Sanchez can play the Jets out of it all by himself. Yes, Santonio Holmes dropped a touchdown pass in the second quarter, and yes, seven points there could've altered the dynamic of the game and the quarterback's play.

But as much as Ryan cited the dropped passes and protection breakdowns around the pocket, the coach couldn't hide from this cold, hard fact:

Sanchez was so wildly inaccurate (17-for-44) and so loose with the ball, he was the Jet most responsible for the team's demise.

That's why Ryan considered turning to Brunell, after all, a desperate move to end all desperate moves.

"Rex and I have a good relationship," Sanchez said. "I'm not worried about getting pulled or anything, but he's got to make those decisions.

"It's one of those games where I wasn't helping us too much at times. ... I can't play like that. I can't be a roller coaster. I've got to be consistent."

When Sanchez appeared on the video board at the start of the second quarter to thank the fans for their support, some of those fans booed him in response. One of the market's most popular stars had devolved into A.J. Burnett.

All game Sanchez was wild high and low, and wide left and right. He threw a gawd-awful pass to Holmes on fourth-and-5 in the fourth. With 2:16 to play and 75 yards to cover for the winning score, Sanchez couldn't even move the Jets to midfield.

"This clearly was not on one man," Ryan maintained. "You've got to look in the mirror. There's a heck of a lot more to blame than Mark Sanchez."

Of course, Ryan had to take a hit, too, as the anything-goes nature of his renegade program manifested itself one more time. His strength and conditioning coach thought it would be a wonderful idea to trip Miami's Nolan Carroll, who had the misfortune of running up the Jets' sideline on a punt return.

Carroll went down in a heap, avoided injury, and fielded a postgame apology from the offending meathead, Sal Alosi, who needs to find a new line of work.

The Jets are getting harder and harder to like, and harder and harder to fathom as a team capable of advancing in the postseason. Their franchise player, Sanchez, has thrown for one touchdown and five interceptions in his past three games, and has completed a lousy 53 percent of his passes for the year.

His regression left his coach pondering a demotion Sunday, a truth unlikely to bolster Sanchez's confidence from here to Pittsburgh and beyond.

So the Jets are in big, big trouble. Four days after Rex Ryan buried a football, he might have buried his quarterback.

Ian O'Connor is a columnist for ESPNNewYork.com. You can follow him on Twitter.

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