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The Mark Sanchez Era: You come to this party for the crying, not the cake

Statistically speaking, Mark Sanchez might have the worst career in the history of NFL quarterbacks. Please, please don't miss out on how beautiful this is, and please, may it keep on going.

The Star-Ledger-USA TODAY Sports

Ever since Kyle Orton's historically awful 2005 campaign, only one quarterback has started 15-plus games and finished with a worse passer rating than 2012 Mark Sanchez (66.9). That man was 2009 Mark Sanchez (63.0). Sanchez is not the worst quarterback in NFL history, but he might be the worst who ever stuck around.

It isn't really all that common for an NFL team to start the same quarterback for four seasons. Across their 80-plus-year histories, the Bears have only done that three times, and the Lions only twice. That the Jets have given Sanchez four seasons is completely remarkable. If they give him a fifth -- which they really might do -- they'll be making history.

"Passer rating index," or Rate+, is a stat found on Pro-Football-Reference that hammers out a quarterback's passer rating into a score that's relative to all his fellow NFL quarterbacks that season. A Rate+ of 100 means he was completely average, higher is better, and lower is worse. Mark Sanchez's four years, in terms of Rate+, are below-average to terrible (75, 90, 92, and 77).

There are 119 instances of an NFL team starting the same guy at quarterback for four or more years (minimum 10 games per season). I found these guys' Rate+ over these seasons and then I stacked them all up.


I'm willing to bet that as you scrolled down, you had the same feeling I did when I looked up these numbers: You knew exactly where this was headed. As I scrolled through the history of every NFL franchise and picked apart each quarterback era, I kept thinking, "somebody has to be worse than Mark Sanchez. Maybe the Cardinals started some dentist by trade in the 1930s and nobody cared." But I sort of knew better. With an average Rate+ of 83.5, Sanchez sits at the very bottom, tied with Joey Harrington and his four spectacularly cruddy seasons with the Lions.

What makes the Sanchez Era more remarkable is that these Jets aren't those Lions, a perpetual cellar-dweller with little in the way of fan expectations. They aren't the Buccaneers of the 1970s, sucking it up in the weird distant years before the NFL established itself in this country as "church for the afternoon."

No, these Jets are playing in the largest geographical market of a League that demands, and receives, all the attention America can give it. They're also a team that fell just a win short of the Super Bowl during Sanchez's first two seasons. You and I can probably agree that starting Tim Tebow last season would have been super-dumb, but think on the Sanchez Era and ask yourself which is really more evocative of destructivist performance art.

And they're still doing it! This grand work is not yet finished! Rex Ryan is still out there, rolling around in donkey shit, and screaming the part in the Bible where the apostle Paul tells proponents of circumcision to go the rest of the way and cut their penises off, and jumping into canvas walls. They're doing it as they keep affording Sanchez The Opportunity To Succeed and pledge to let him start the preseason opener. It isn't finished yet.

There are multiple artists of this work. Sanchez has a paintbrush too. Or maybe it's a can of Krylon or a bingo dauber. Regardless:

"I think I earned the right to start this first game, and we’ll see how it goes from there," Sanchez said.

[...] Sanchez already has his eyes cast far beyond the first preseason game. He told the Los Angeles Times on Tuesday, "Once we get in the playoffs this year we’ll make a little run."

I love that man. I don't love to hate him, I love him. I love that the man who feels he has Earned The Right to quarterback the Jets is the man who throws into triple-coverage,


and runs a Power O into a man's butt,


and throws into quad-coverage,


and is cobbling away at the worst career of length an NFL quarterback has ever had. He and the Jets are building a monument. To what, we don't know, but they're building a monument. The difference between these Jets and Stonehenge is that 10,000 years in the future, they will understand how they raised four tons of stone, but they will not know why.

It really is a privilege to watch this. I'll tell you what: I don't know if I had any more fun last season than I did when I watched, along with the rest of Twitter, as the Jets staggered to a miserable 7-6 win over the Cardinals. After throwing three picks, Sanchez was benched. In a move that felt like a government protecting endangered wetlands, he was reinstated as the starter a week later.

I certainly don't want Sanchez to be miserable. I like him and I want him to be as happy as he can as he labors at this art. It's true that, in terms of what quarterbacks are supposed to do, he's a bad quarterback. But to call him or his play undesirable, hate-able or anything amounting to upper-case Bad would feel to me like calling a tree "bad" for being 10 feet tall. I mean, I guess.

I hope like hell this keeps going. Watching this quarterback, and these Jets, is like watching football in another, new color. When I think on these things, I think of the words of my friend and favorite Jets fan: