Just because the New York Jets season is over doesn't mean the drama has stopped in New Jersey. In fact, without actual playoff football games to worry about, the players and the local press corps have gotten to focus on a far more entertaining task -- assigning blame for the team's implosion. Immediately following Gangrenous Green's season-ending loss in Miami, disgruntled wide receiver Santonio Holmes was the player being blamed by his teammates and eviscerated in the press.
Today's scapegoat? Mark Sanchez.
According to Manish Metha of the New York Daily News, some Jets players ripped their own quarterback, questioning his work ethic.
"We have to bring in another quarterback that will make him work at practice," said one player who asked to remain anonymous. "He's lazy and content because he knows he's not going to be benched."
Backing up Sanchez this season was 41-year-old Mark Brunnell, hardly a threat to climb the depth chart -- or even a tall flight of stairs. Jets coach Rex Ryan did make a show of getting Brunnell first-team reps during practice after Sanchez threw a key interception in the team's late loss to the Broncos in Week 11 but there was never any question who would start the team's next game.
"This is our quarterback," Ryan said the day after Brunnell's practice reps drew attention. "That's how I look at it. Whether it's a veteran quarterback or whoever pushing him, I don't see taking Mark Sanchez out of a game. I don't see that. If we did put him out or pull him, would it be for a series? Maybe so, but I don't see myself ever taking Mark out of a game."
Another player went even further than suggesting that Sanchez needed more competition on the roster, telling the Daily News that the Jets should consider trading Sanchez if they can acquire a "healthy 36-year-old Peyton Manning."
The catch here, of course, is the health of the Indianapolis Colts' star. Manning underwent three neck surgeries and missed the entire season. It's not clear that Manning will ever be 100 percent healthy again. Now, the Colts have the No. 1 pick in the upcoming draft and according to several reports, Colts owner Jim Irsay plans to select Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck.
But even if the Jets could get Manning, head coach Rex Ryan stated that he wants to stick with Sanchez. At least, that's what he told Stephen A. smith before the season finale.
The first player targeted by teammates in the frustrating aftermath of the failed season was Holmes, who was pulled from the field in final minutes against the Dolphins after arguing with teammates in the huddle. Teammates ripped Holmes for his body language and attitude, going as far as to refer to him as a "cancer" in the locker room.
In a radio interview after the final game, Jets third-string quarterback Greg McElroy took the critique beyond Holmes, calling out his teammates for being selfish and not caring whether the team wins or loses.
Among the preseason Super Bowl favorites, the Jets were at their worst when it mattered most, losing three straight games to end the season and miss the playoffs. In those three losses, Sanchez threw seven interceptions to five touchdown passes. Despite his struggles and the team's lip service to being a "ground and pound" team, Sanchez attempted a career-high 59 passes and dropped back more than 70 times in the Jets' Week 16 loss to the New York Giants.
On Tuesday evening, the Jets fired the offensive coordinator responsible for calling all of those passing plays, Brian Schottenheimer. It is no secret that Sanchez is not the most accurate passer in the NFL and that he is at his best piloting a run-heavy attack and using play action fakes. Nevertheless, he was tasked with doing things that seem to exceed his talents.
As Sanchez's play dipped so severely in the last few weeks, it seems that the third-year veteran didn't have a deep enough resevoir of goodwill built up in the locker room to keep his teammates on his side. Even All-Pro Kris Jenkins told ESPN that Sanchez lost points in the locker room after posing for pictures in men's fashion magazines.
While the fashion pictorials of Sanchez have surely drawn their fair share of chortles inside and outside of NFL locker rooms, it is quite unlikely that anyone would mind how times Sanchez played "Baywatch" if the team was hosting a playoff game this weekend. After all, there may not be another athlete who has been a part of more commercials over the past few years than Peyton Manning.