Mark Sanchez more aware of the moment

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Young players think they know.

They truly don't, not until they go through it.

Mark Sanchez has been a football fan since he was a child. He has been familiar with the NFL playoff format for a long time, fully aware the winner of the AFC Championship Game goes to the Super Bowl, while the loser gets to watch on TV.

But Sanchez didn't really know what that meant.

"I just don't think I understood how close we were," Sanchez replied Friday, when I asked him how much last year's loss to the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC title game specifically weighed on his offseason. The Jets led into the third quarter before their magical ride ended in Lucas Oil Stadium.

"I know we were one game away. It's easy to say that. But you don't really see it until two weeks later from the game you lose; they're playing the Super Bowl. You go through the whole offseason, and you realize your goal again is to make it back -- right there -- and we were just a quarter and a half away.

"It's crazy. It blows your mind when you think about it."

Sanchez has a better grasp of the situation in his second NFL season. He's back in the conference title game and will play the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday for a ticket to the Super Bowl.

"It brings back all those emotions of that last game and how hard it was to walk off the field," Sanchez said, "and you see that confetti coming down and you see Peyton [Manning] and all their guys on the stage.

"We want that to be us. We can't come up short this time. We've got to be sharp. We need to play well."

The Jets seemed quieter and a little edgier Friday than they were Wednesday or Thursday. You could tell they were ready for Sunday to arrive with its opportunity to conquer year-old ghosts.

"I remember how that felt," Sanchez said. "It'll be different. If we prepare the right way, play the right way we know we can win the game. We have the players to do it. We have the scheme to do it.

"You can't play not to lose. We've got to play to win the game."