FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) - Mark Sanchez thought his streak was over.
The New York Jets quarterback zipped a pass through the wet Meadowlands air Monday night and _ whew! _ Minnesota’s Antoine Winfield couldn’t quite get his hands around it.
A few close calls, and still no interceptions through five games.
“It’s one of those things that you can’t let up and I feel like when I was late on a couple last week, I lucked out,” Sanchez said. “We joke about it in the quarterbacks room: ‘You must be living right to luck out like that’.”
There have been a handful of other near-misses this season, including a pass that Braylon Edwards tipped away from a Vikings defender and was called for offensive pass interference. Two interceptions have also been overturned.
“Mark would agree with this, that we’ve been fortunate, especially this last game,” said backup quarterback Mark Brunell, in his 18th NFL season. “There were a couple of tips and we were like, ‘Oh, that was a close one!’ Sometimes those go your way and sometimes they don’t.”
And, this season, they all have _ so far.
Sanchez, who has eight touchdown passes, is the league’s only quarterback with at least 100 attempts without an interception. The only other player who has had significant playing time and not been intercepted is Philadelphia’s Michael Vick, who has thrown just 96 passes.
“It’s been a point of emphasis all offseason and I’m really glad that things have gone well so far,” said Sanchez, who set a career high with 44 attempts Monday night. “A lot of it is the decision making. A lot of it is the accuracy and I lost a little accuracy last week. It’s something that I’m constantly working at and hopefully this week is not the week to start.”
Sanchez and the Jets will take on the Broncos (2-3) in Denver on Sunday.
“He’s grown up,” Broncos linebacker Mario Haggan said. “He was a rookie last year and made some rookie mistakes. Now, he’s a more mature quarterback. He understands the offense, he’s reading the defense better and he’s got some targets he trusts now.”
The second-year quarterback has had a huge turnaround after being intercepted 20 times as a rookie, and his ball security is a major reason the Jets are among the NFL’s best teams with a 4-1 record.
“I think it’s definitely his development, the way he studied, the time he put in in the offseason,” Jets coach Rex Ryan said. “It’s starting to pay dividends right now for us. But luck, if that’s thrown in there, that’s fine.”
According to the NFL, Sanchez joined former Jets quarterback Vinny Testaverde (2001) as the only players since the merger in 1970 to start the first five games without an interception after throwing 20 or more the previous season.
“We’ve been very fortunate, but they’re a part of the game and they’re going to happen,” Brunell said. “It doesn’t mean it’s going to be a bad decision. Sometimes, there’s tipped balls and things happen, but if he continues to play like this, he’ll get to the end of the season and there will be very few.”
That means Sanchez will have made major progress in an area that was a huge concern coming into a season in which the Jets are thinking Super Bowl.
“Part of it is just knowing your reads,” Edwards said. “A lot of times last year, Mark was trying to find himself and trying to force some things. A lot of times when you force things into the wrong situation, that’s when you get those interceptions, those fumbles, because you’re not necessarily going where you’re supposed to go.”
This season, Edwards said, Sanchez is making the correct reads down the field.
“Even when he’s getting some tipped balls, the reason they’re not getting intercepted is because they’re going where they’re supposed to go,” Edwards said. “So, he’s getting (defenders) who are out of place. That’s why they’re not getting the interceptions.”
Sanchez often sends his receivers text messages or e-mails with ideas on how to approach the next opponent or notes to keep them motivated. He wants to keep the mistakes to a minimum and keep getting better, especially with red-zone efficiency after going 0 for 4 against the Vikings.
“If we just convert a couple of those red-zone opportunities, we can be explosive,” Sanchez said. “That’s our goal. We’ve just got to improve a little bit each week and we’ll be ready to play.”
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