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“Boom, we’re in that situation,” Sanchez said. “I’m playing catch on the sidelines like, ‘All right, here we go.’”

Sanchez, the AFC player of the week, has thrown for an NFL-leading 1,206 yards in his last four games. But it hasn’t been all about his arm. An increased focus on making plays with his legs has paid off, just as it did for one of his favorites, Hall of Famer John Elway.

“One of those guys that’s a fighter, just never dies,” Sanchez said. “He always gave his team another chance.”

That’s what Sanchez, who recently turned 24 and is just 25 regular-season games into his career, is doing for the Jets. He’s already led them to the AFC championship game and coach Rex Ryan hasn’t been hesitant to declare his team a Super Bowl favorite despite having a young quarterback.

“Lady Luck will help, as well as his continued growth, but I wouldn’t put any limitations on Mark Sanchez,” Namath said. “No way.”

Tomlinson said the thought of playing with Sanchez helped make up his mind this offseason about signing with New York. Ryan calls him “Cool Hand Luke,” and it has been particularly fitting during this recent stretch.

“They know he’s the guy and he’s the boss out there,” Ryan said before smiling. “The kid doesn’t have a whole lot going for him, to be honest with you, but we’ll settle for him.”

Serious in the huddle, the kid in Sanchez comes out after big plays _ fist pumps, mad dashes down the field and hugs on the sidelines. He has become the type of electrifying player that even opposing players appreciate.

“We’re both Mexican,” Cincinnati wide receiver Chad Ochocinco said, laughing. “Of course he’s exciting.”

And, also quite the prankster.

“He’s a big kid,” Richardson said. “I think that’s something outside people don’t see.”

Like the times he sneakily covers the black seats in the offensive meeting rooms with water, so offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer’s pants get soaked when he sits.

Or, like last Saturday, when Schottenheimer had a doughnut on a table and Sanchez came along and stuck his finger in it. Disgusted, Schottenheimer pushed it aside and Sanchez stuffed it into his mouth.

Punter Steve Weatherford has become close with Sanchez, hanging out with him away from football.

“My little boy loves him,” he said. “Just a good dude. He’s not like some guys you play with where the media portrays them as a really good guy, but off the field, he’s not. Mark’s the real deal.”

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