This episode of Breaking Madden will have no GIFs. I haven't created any Twitter players. I haven't changed a single one of Madden's settings or player ratings. This week, the game will be a near-exact replica of what it was like before I ripped it out of the box. Those were simpler times, for the game and for me.
This is the mission:
A team will get to the Super Bowl with Mark Sanchez as its quarterback.
No matter how long it takes. No matter which team it takes. No hacks. Mark Sanchez getting to a Super Bowl is the hack.
Welcome to this Breaking Madden Special Event:
Music: "Star In The Ghetto" from Prince Phillip Mitchell's 1978 album, "Make It Good"
ESTABLISHMENT OF MOTIVE.
I hope the best, of course, for Eagles quarterback Nick Foles, who broke his collarbone last Sunday and figures to be out for about six weeks. But Mark Sanchez now has the keys to the Philadelphia offense for at least a month, and if I had to choose any quarterback in football to take his place, Mark Sanchez would be that quarterback.
It's clear that Mark Sanchez doesn't have abilities that are commensurate with the fifth overall pick the New York Jets spent on him in 2009. His four-year tenure as Jets starter, in fact, was by some measures the worst tenure in the history of NFL quarterbacks. This chart comes from a post I wrote on Sanchez a year ago:
That is a very long list of quarterbacks, and Mark Sanchez the Jet is at the very, very bottom. He instantly achieved celebrity status in New York, and reached the AFC Championship in his first two seasons. The Jets regressed after that, and so did Mark, who finished with an abysmal 66.9 passer rating in his fourth and final season in the Meadowlands.
Last season, Sanchez was ditched in favor of Geno Smith, another rookie who was thrown straight into the fire, and who has played just about as badly. The same even goes for Michael Vick, who hasn't been able to get much of anything going in his limited time under center. So this is my question: How much of Mark Sanchez's failure belongs to him, and how much belongs to the Jets?
Well, let's have Mark play a whole season with each NFL team and see what's what.
1. I'll install Sanchez as the starting quarterback of each NFL team, one at a time, and using Madden's in-menu simulator, I'll sim an entire season of every team's Mark Sanchez Experience.
2. If Sanchez still can't take a team to the Super Bowl after 32 tries, I'll look over our body of research, identify the teams with whom he reached his greatest potential, and start him on those teams until he reaches the Super Bowl. I will do this for as long as it takes, because this is important. As @sorryeveryone, my friend and favorite Jets fan, told me, "Everyone deserves life after the Jets."
3. Whenever we do reach the Super Bowl, I'll actually watch the game itself, but I won't actually play. I'll simply call whichever play Madden suggests, put the controller down, and let Mark do his thing, whatever that may be.
4. This experiment ends once Mark plays in the Super Bowl, win or lose. He will have one shot at a ring, and one only.
5. No matter how long this takes, I will absolutely not, under any circumstances, employ any cheats or shortcuts. I will never edit Mark's player ratings to make him better. If I did that, he would not be Mark Sanchez at all.
6. There is only one break from reality: I've turned injuries off. This is only to ensure that Mark plays an entire season. I think this is entirely fair, since all his opponents will, too.
At this point, some of y'all might not see what the big deal is. "Just put him on one of the best teams, like the Broncos," you say. "Sim it like five or 10 times. Surely you can at least make it to the Super Bowl after a few tries with an awesome team."
Ha. Ha ha ha ha ha. I remember when I was like you.
PHASE I: FOR EVERY TEAM, A SANCHIZE.
I was fully prepared for the possibility that Mark wouldn't reach the Super Bowl with any of the NFL's 32 teams on the first go-around, and good thing I was, because he didn't.
This is how each team finished.
Only five teams were able to post winning records with Mark taking all the snaps. As it happens, all five made the playoffs, which made me hopeful. But as Mark tends to do, he lost both conference championships he played in: With the Steelers, he lost the AFC Championship to the Patriots, 29-16, and with the Cowboys, he suffered a 55-3 blowout in the NFC Championship at the hands of the 49ers.
At this point, I began to worry about time constraints. Like, real-world time constraints. I came up with the idea for this experiment Monday morning, mere hours after the Second Mark Sanchez Era had begun in earnest. The process of trading Mark to a team, simulating an entire season with that team, and recording all the data took about 20 minutes. So, including breaks, simulating Mark through the entire league took around 14 hours. Breaking Madden must go up by Thursday.
What if this just doesn't happen? What if I literally don't have enough time to get Mark to a Super Bowl? I tried not to think about it. I would spare no cost to give Mark Sanchez enough opportunities to succeed.
PHASE II: FINDING THE TEAM THAT IS RIGHT FOR MARK.
Within the first round of 32 simulations, the success/failure spectrum was considerably large. This was good news, because it offered me clear-cut information on which teams were bad for Mark Sanchez, and which were good for him.
I was curious, so I looked up the real-life passer rating posted by each NFL team in the 2014 season to date. Then I compared that to Mark's simulated passer rating with that team.
Mark's numbers were almost always worse. Half the time, they were way, way worse.
Mark outplayed only four real-life teams in terms of passer rating, and even then, the edge was only marginal. The Jets, though. The god-dang Jets were the team Mark outplayed the best. That is suspiciously perfect.
One thing I regret about this experiment is that I can't really give you definitive proof that I didn't tweak any numbers, cook the books or just make this junk up entirely. But long ago, I decided that Breaking Madden would be ethical journalism. I am a beat reporter. I may be interviewing only a half-broken fortune teller machine, but I will not misquote it, and I will hold this mic to the mouth of Zoltar until my arm goes numb.
Well. Let's decide on a team.
We're just trying to push Mark into the Super Bowl, so team wins should be the only thing that really matters. I've found, however, that it's become important to me that Mark plays within a system that fits him, so I've taken his personal passer rating into consideration as well.
The two best bets appear to be Pittsburgh (13-3 record, 80.3 passer rating) and Denver (10-5-1 record, 93 passer rating). I have to go with the Steelers. A passer rating that scratches at the 80s is probably just about as much as we could ever expect from the real-life Mark. If the Steelers can regularly post around 12 or 13 wins a season, they have a great shot at a first-round bye, which gives Mark one fewer opportunity to fail.
We're headin' to Pittsburgh, y'all.
PHASE III: THE STEELERS ERA.
Those 13 wins during the first journey through Pittsburgh were a cruel aberration. Over the course of two decades' worth of seasons, Mark's Steelers never managed more than 11 wins. We made the playoffs only three times, and we never even reached the AFC Championship.
In terms of real-world time, this phase didn't take quite as long as the last one, since I didn't have to pop out of the simulator and trade Mark Sanchez each time. It still took quite a while. Many of you probably would have bailed on the Steelers far sooner than I did, and you would have been right to do so. I was just trying to Trust The Process, y'all.
I finished Season 52 at around noon on Wednesday. The week was disappearing on me. After 20 disappointing seasons with the Steelers, Mark and I switched horses.
PHASE IV: THE BRONCOS ERA.
In our first season with the Broncos, we finished with a 10-6 record. In our second, we lost the AFC Championship by four points (to, naturally, the Steelers).
Once again, I found myself hopeful. Mark Sanchez will never be confused for Peyton Manning, but in Denver, he has a fantastic receiving corps and as much protection as he could ever ask for. In Pittsburgh, he was commonly sacked 30 times a year; here, he was once sacked only seven times in a single season.
You know what's a lot of fun? You know what's a real sack o' yams? Going to the playoffs for the first time in an hour, taking a deep breath, hitting the "Advance Week" button, losing 27-24, and realizing it might be another hour before you even get that far again.
The shame of it is that Mark Sanchez played well with the Broncos. Really well! Over these 20 seasons, he averaged a 92.7 passer rating. One season, his passer rating was 102.6, and he threw for 5,291 yards -- only a couple hundred shy of the all-time NFL record. I just could not understand how a quarterback with those numbers could ride with the 2014 Broncos for 20 years and never once reach the Super Bowl.
By Year 72, it was about 6 p.m. Wednesday evening. I panicked. I switched teams again.
PHASE V: THE DARK ERA.
At this point, I reduced my level of Trusting The Process to mere Stalin-esque levels. I decided I would implement Five-Year Plans. If Mark couldn't get a team to the Super Bowl within five seasons, I'd cut bait and move on.
The Dallas Cowboys era is too sad to chart. Mark threw the ball fairly well -- his passer rating averaged about 85 -- but the Cowboys managed only one winning record, and never made the playoffs.
We moved on to Chicago, where Mark had played well during Phase I. When the they staggered to a 3-13 finish in their first season, I cut my losses immediately.
Can we stop for a second and talk about how ridiculous this is? Mark Sanchez has not been able to reach a Super Bowl despite PLAYING FOR SUPER BOWL-CALIBER TEAMS FOR 78 YEARS. There is no way Mark is this awful. Madden is shitting me. It has to be.
Or maybe the game's just shrugging at me. "Mark Sanchez, Super Bowl Quarterback? I ... I'm sorry. I don't know how to do that. I don't know how to show that to you.
"I don't know what that looks like."
PHASE VI: THE RAVENS ERA.
Under pressure, I decided to go with my gut. That is exactly what Mark himself would do, of course, which was hardly encouraging, but the Ravens just seemed like a good fit. In Phase I, he'd finished 10-6 in Baltimore.
And the real-life Ravens, well ... they're recent Super Bowl champions, and perennial playoff contenders, and they have accomplished these things with Joe Flacco as their quarterback. Flacco is so up-and-down as to be unknowable. If Flacco had been drafted by the Jets, and Sanchez by the Ravens, would they have lived opposite careers? I don't know. But it feels right.
In the first video for this episode, which I released Tuesday, I promised that I would get Mark Sanchez to a Super Bowl, no matter how long it took. But it was Wednesday night at this point. I was running out of hours, much less waking hours. I realized that after simulating for 100 years, I would have to stop, and the next day I would trudge unshowered to y'all and dump a heap of losses at your feet, and nothing more.
What started so well in Baltimore turned sour in a hurry: lost AFC Championship, lost AFC Championship, no playoffs, no playoffs, no playoffs, no playoffs, no playoffs, no playoffs, no playoffs.
I let out some bitter laughter at one point. At the start of this experiment, I had originally intended to play until Mark Sanchez had won a Super Bowl. Then I scaled it back. "Well, I'll just stop once he reaches the Super Bowl, and end the experiment there, win or lose. That will keep things reasonable." If I had resolved to keep going until he actually won a Super Bowl, we might be playing into the 38th century.
It's gotta end, Mark. No matter what happens, you didn't deserve all this losing. You deserved so much better. Godspeed, Mark.
Music: "Come On Up To The House" from Tom Waits' 1999 album, "Mule Variations"