The proof was in his non-throwing hand late in Sunday's 38-0 dismantling of the Oakland Raiders at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum: A hot dog that he wolfed down on the visitors' sideline, after using his right hand to empty the contents of a plastic mustard pack.
A hot dog? Really? I ask not because I think it was an unprofessional gesture, nor because I thought Sanchez was showing up his opponent or disrespecting the game.
No, the reason I view the former USC quarterback's move as a sign of immaturity is that he actually thought a stadium dog would make him feel less nauseous.
According to Sanchez's agent, David Dunn, the quarterback had been under the weather for several days leading up to the game, and as late as Sunday morning "had trouble keeping food down."
So as the unseemly blowout wound down and a sideline attendant that Sanchez had never met offered him a dog of unknown origin, the 22-year-old passer gratefully accepted.
"I want to apologize for that," Sanchez said afterward. "I wasn't feeling very good and didn't eat much before the game, so I was feeling a little queasy. Toward the end of the game, I probably should have eaten one of those bars or something, but someone offered it, so I grabbed it and tried to be discreet about it, but obviously not discreet enough. So I shouldn't have done that, and it won't happen again."
As someone who implemented a strict "no press-box hot dog" policy two decades ago, I applaud Sanchez's declaration.
And as someone who spent draft day with Sanchez and saw how uncontrollably excited he was about the Jets' decision to trade up and pick him, I hope the kid parlays this into a Nathan's endorsement and celebrates by chowing down with Joey Chestnut.
More soothing to Sanchez than his fourth-quarter snack was the way his Jets teammates stepped up to make life easier for their embattled rookie in his return to the Golden State. The kid needed it. Having had the predictable superlatives thrown his way following New York's surprising 3-0 start, the New Joe Namath took the requisite public pounding when the Jets lost their next three.
When Sanchez threw five interceptions in last Sunday's overtime defeat to the Buffalo Bills, Jets coach Rex Ryan felt compelled to affirm that the No. 5 overall pick in the '09 draft would remain his starter.
Sanchez's teammates were even more protective. They supported their starter by doing everything they could to enhance his on-the-field reality, moving the ball on the ground at will and treating Oakland's offense like Chestnut does a Nathan's dog on the Fourth of July.
"That was our goal from the beginning – making sure we did our part so he wouldn't have to do extra," center Nick Mangold(notes) said of Sanchez. "He's going to have bad games – we all are – but he bounced back from last week in a big way."
Added veteran tackle Damien Woody(notes): "We know how tough it is for a young quarterback. We're trying to make it as easy as possible for him. And let's face it – a running game is a quarterback's best friend. Rushing for over 300 yards in back-to-back weeks – I don't even know if that's been done."
It has, most recently by the Bills … in 1975. With 318 rushing yards in the defeat to Buffalo and 316 on Sunday – despite the loss of scatback Leon Washington(notes), who broke his right leg after absorbing a stomach-churning tackle with 9:38 left in the first quarter – the Jets (4-3) allowed Sanchez to play the kind of safe, efficient game for which he is best suited right now.
Sanchez attempted just 15 passes, completing nine for 143 yards. He spent the bulk of his time chilling in the backfield and watching rookie Shonn Greene's(notes) breakout game (19 carries, 144 yards, two TDs) and starter Thomas Jones'(notes) typical workmanlike effort (26 carries, 126 yards, one TD).
"Three-hundred sixteen yards – that'll make anyone's life easy back there," said wideout Braylon Edwards(notes), who caught just one pass for 14 yards in his third game since being acquired from the Cleveland Browns. "There are no selfish people on this team. It's just up to guys to make plays and try to do your job – and make his job that much easier. That's what we did all week in practice. Then we came out here and did it."
So did the New York defense, which forced a turnover on the game's first offensive play – outside linebacker Calvin Pace(notes) (three sacks, two forced fumbles) pried the ball from Raiders quarterback JaMarcus Russell(notes), and defensive tackle Marques Douglas(notes) recovered at the Oakland 4-yard line – and produced four takeaways overall.
All of this was much appreciated by Sanchez, who said, "They take all the pressure off when you run the ball like that and totally shut them down on defense. Guys on this team want to help each other out and see each other do well. We have great chemistry like that. It's fun to be the quarterback of this team."
Sanchez, who estimated he had "way more than" 50 family members and friends in attendance, made no effort to conceal his exuberance. Before enjoying his sideline snack, he succumbed to some end-zone hot-dogging: After smoking the confused Raiders defense and scoring on a three-yard quarterback draw with 4:20 remaining in the first quarter, Sanchez did his best Tony Gonzalez(notes) impersonation, jumping up and dunking the football over the goal post with his left hand.
"His hops are very limited," Woody said. "He barely got it over, so he didn't embarrass himself – and that's all that matters."
Sanchez celebrated almost as wildly after going up top to connect with wideout David Clowney(notes) on a 35-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter, and he said he was excited for the brief time he'd get to mingle with his large entourage before boarding the team bus to the airport.
Just before Sanchez's postgame news conference ended, a reporter asked if he'd managed to sneak in a trip to famed Southern California-born fast-food chain In N' Out Burger. It's a franchise near and dear to Sanchize's heart – and stomach.
"Absolutely," Sanchez said, smiling. "Right when I got in [on Saturday]."
The natural follow-up question for those in the know: animal style?
"Always," Sanchez replied.
Now that is an immature attitude toward food I can fully support.
I'M HOT CAUSE I'M FLY …
• Yo, Miami Dolphins – what did you just do? Just when the undefeated New Orleans Saints were looking vulnerable, trailing 24-3 midway through the second quarter of Sunday's game at Land Shark Stadium, with their high-powered offense held to a single first down, you went and screwed it up for everyone. When New Orleans (6-0) rallied for a 46-34 victory, it was a chilling message to the rest of the league that Sean Payton's Saints aren't merely a bunch of front-runners riding an early season wave of good fortune. Facing its first deficit of the season, New Orleans scored a key TD on Drew Brees'(notes) plunge with two seconds left in the half to cut the deficit to 24-10. But on a day in which Brees threw three interceptions and lost a fumble, it was the defense that keyed the comeback. Safety Darren Sharper's(notes) 11th career interception return (one short of Rod Woodson's all-time record), and third of the season, closed the gap to seven a minute into the second half, and Tracy Porter's(notes) late 54-yard pick to the house clinched the victory. This team won't go 16-0, but the Saints will be able to draw on the mettle they showed Sunday when the truly big games occur in December and January.
• Since waging their epic battle in Super Bowl XLII last February, the Pittsburgh Steelers and Arizona Cardinals have seemed a bit sluggish – until Sunday. Pittsburgh (5-2) took down the previously undefeated Vikings (6-1) at Heinz Field, while Arizona (4-2) did something that until last January would have seemed unthinkable, rolling to a 24-17 road victory over the favored New York Giants (5-2). Impressively, both the Steelers and Cardinals did it with defense. Minnesota scored just 10 offensive points (along with Percy Harvin's(notes) kickoff return for touchdown) in its 27-17 defeat, with the Steelers' defense scoring 14 in the final 6½ minutes (LaMarr Woodley's(notes) 77-yard fumble return and Keyaron Fox's(notes) 82-yard interception return). Think the Pittsburgh defenders were a little sick of hearing about Brett Favre's(notes) Vikings revival? "No question," inside linebacker James Farrior(notes) wrote via text Sunday night. The Cardinals, who won their third straight road game – something they last accomplished in 1987 – also owed their victory to the defense. Though Pro Bowl safety Adrian Wilson(notes) and dynamic cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie(notes) were both sidelined with injuries down the stretch, the Cards kept making huge plays to preserve their fourth-quarter lead, finally securing the outcome when safety Antrel Rolle(notes) got a great jump on Eli Manning's(notes) sideline pass, stepped in front of wideout Steve Smith and snatched it just before falling out of bounds at the Arizona 22 with 1:08 remaining. I asked Rolle (via text) if he had any doubt he'd make the pick. "Never," he replied. And just like that, after that ugly debut against the San Francisco 49ers (3-3), the Cardinals have regained control of the NFC West and are a legitimate threat to contend for another conference crown.
• It's fashionable to bash the Dallas Cowboys as over-hyped frauds, but that will be harder to do after their impressive 37-21 victory over the Atlanta Falcons. For one thing, the Cowboys now seem to have a bona fide No. 1 receiver in Miles Austin(notes), an undrafted fourth-year player who followed up his club-record 250-yard receiving effort against the Chiefs with a six-catch, 171-yard performance that featured touchdowns of 59 and 22 yards. The Dallas defense was all over Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan(notes). In an inspired assault that featured the reemergence of sack specialist DeMarcus Ware(notes), the Cowboys sacked Ryan four times and forced a pair of fumbles (he lost one) and two interceptions. In the first quarter the Cowboys broke a string of 143 consecutive Falcons pass plays on which Ryan hadn't been sacked – by taking him down on back-to-back plays. With Philly coming off a defeat in Oakland last week that now looks even more embarrassing and the Giants having lost two in a row, the NFC East is officially a wide-open, three-team race, and the Cowboys seem to have the freshest legs at this particular moment.
… YOU AIN'T CAUSE YOU'RE NOT
• So let me get this straight: England quite generously gave us "The Office." And for one forgettable Sunday, we returned the favor by giving 84,254 fans at Wembley Stadium "The Awful." Yes, British friends, you did get to see Tom Brady(notes) do his thing in the New England Patriots' 35-7 victory over the 0-7 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and you also got to see what happens when an NFL franchise stops spending aggressively to retain or acquire players and hires a rookie coach (Raheem Morris) who lacks the experience to deal with such a dearth of talent. As of Sunday's debacle, the Bucs are now on their third quarterback of 2009 and their second Josh, with first-round rookie Josh Freeman(notes) seemingly set to step in for Josh Johnson(notes). Should Freeman struggle – and you know he will – might I humbly suggest "SportsCenter" anchor Josh Elliott, who at least could inject some humor into a miserable situation?
• After a promising offseason headlined by the blockbuster trade for quarterback Jay Cutler(notes), the Chicago Bears (3-3) are officially in trouble. In a nightmarish scenario for the Windy City's frustrated fans, the Bears went to Cincinnati and got embarrassed by the Bengals and former Chicago washout Cedric Benson(notes), who carried 37 times for 189 yards and the one-yard touchdown run that punctuated Cincy's 45-10 victory. With Carson Palmer(notes) throwing more touchdown passes (five) than incompletions (four), the Bengals cruised from the start against a team that has been outscored 45-7 in the first quarter this season. Either coach Lovie Smith should start running his team through an imaginary first quarter during warmups, or he needs to come up with some better material in the locker room before kickoff.
• After Jake Delhomme(notes) threw three more interceptions in the Carolina Panthers' 20-9 home defeat to the Buffalo Bills, giving him an NFL-high 13 for the season, coach John Fox said he'd "evaluate" the quarterback position. Allow me to help him by cutting to the chase: John, your owner, Jerry Richardson, just celebrated a new lease on life (via a heart transplant) by firing his feuding sons. That makes that talk about your job (and that of general manager Marty Hurney) being on the line wholly believable. Your team is 2-4, and your quarterback, Delhomme, has now thrown 18 interceptions in his last seven games (including the playoffs). And, perhaps most revealing, here's what Delhomme said to reporters about the prospect of keeping his starting job after Sunday's game: "In my heart, yeah, but I mean let's be honest – I don't think I'm a dummy. When you're not playing well offensively, you always have to look at the quarterback." Though I admire Delhomme for his candor, grit and winning personality, when a quarterback's confidence starts to wane publicly, it's hard to expect his coach not to make a change. A.J. Feeley(notes) was the No. 3 quarterback on Sunday; I'd like to see him be No. 1 (vaulting ahead of Matt Moore(notes)) against the Cardinals next Sunday – a rematch of the playoff game that started Delhomme on his downward spiral.
TWO THINGS I CAN'T COMPREHEND
1. That anyone would eat scrambled eggs without cheese – by choice. I realize that some people have health-related reasons for skipping the cheese, but in that case why not fry or hard-boil or soft-boil your eggs? Scrambled eggs, no cheese: I just don't get it.
2. What Raiders coach Tom Cable was thinking when he tossed the challenge flag with 6:20 left in the first half. Sanchez had just thrown an incompletion on third-and-5 from the Oakland 39, but a defensive holding penalty on Raiders cornerback Stanford Routt(notes) gave the Jets a first down. Cable threw the red flag, we soon learned, because he thought the pass was deflected, which is sort of like challenging a fumble because the strong safety had a blue mouthpiece. Yo, Tom: It's kind of embarrassing when the referee has to explain to you – along with the entire stadium and TV audience – that the play isn't reviewable because the penalty occurred before the ball was tipped. (Realistically, defensive holding isn't reviewable, period.) Perhaps Cable thought Napa County district attorney Gary Lieberstein was up in the replay booth. OK, that was a cheap shot – Cable won't face assault charges for the incident that left exiled Oakland assistant Randy Hanson with a broken jaw, and that's that. This, however, is a perfectly justifiable dig: In the 19 games Cable has coached, the Raiders have scored one offensive touchdown or fewer in 14 of them. More ugly numbers: The Raiders have the league's lowest-ranked offense in '09; they just suffered their worst home defeat in the 50-year history of the franchise; Sunday's announced crowd (a generous 39,354) was the smallest since the team moved back to Oakland in 1995; Cable just benched Russell (6-for-11, 61 yards, two interceptions, one fumble), Al Davis' favorite player (which probably explains why the move is temporary); and the Raiders have a bye after next Sunday's game against the Chargers in San Diego. Is that an overhead projector I hear revving up in the background?
OVER-THE-TOP, EPHEDRINE-LACED DIATRIBE BEFORE DAWN
I'm not one of those people who thinks the NFL should implement a policy that limits its players' microblogging endeavors or other forms of expression; that's a little too Soviet-bloc for my tastes. However, that doesn't mean I'm going to defend every idiotic post, a description that certainly applies to the apparent Twitter submissions by Chiefs halfback Larry Johnson(notes) on Sunday night. First Johnson, shortly after Kansas City's 37-7 home defeat to the Chargers, began a string of messages in which he asserted that his father, Penn State defensive line coach Larry Sr., has "far more creditentials (sic) than most of these pro coaches." He then took some digs at Todd Haley, seemingly mocking K.C.'s first-year coach for not having played in the NFL – unlike Larry Sr.. (Translation: "My dad is better than my boss." Brilliant. Make sure all of you try that at home.) Even more, he appeared to make homophobic slurs in response to a Twitter user who criticized him. Alas Johnson, who's averaging a lamentable 2.7 yards per carry, is heading down what Y! Sports fantasy guru Brad Evans calls "Shaun Alexander Avenue" and won't be K.C.'s primary back much longer.
Who, you ask, is in line to replace him as the NFL's Tweeting Dunce? My money is on UCLA freshman receiver Randall Carroll, who sent out some publicly accessible Twitter messages to a Bruins recruit that reportedly included racial slurs toward UCLA offensive coordinator Norm Chow. (Translation: Hey, come join our team, and you, too, can become so frustrated with our play-calling that you make prejudicial comments that disgrace our otherwise progressive university.) Yo, L.J. and Randall, I've got an idea: The next time you get all worked up, how about not sharing the first things that pop into your heads?
TEXT/IM/EMAIL/VOICEMAIL OF THE WEEK
"I am a clue in tomorrow's New York Times. 112 across. My life is complete."
– Text Saturday afternoon from my former SI colleague Peter King, who on Sunday added, "[Jeez,] I am spread throughout the frickin puzzle. You have to get this thing." (Yeah, I do …)
"The Titans are 0-6 Dad. Ha ha! Nice Super Bowl pick!"
– Text Saturday evening from my 10-year-old son
"Lotsa hot dogs for him."
– Text Sunday evening from Dunn, an hour after he said goodbye to Sanchez at the Coliseum – and upon getting the stat line on Cowboys receiver Austin, one of his young (and soon-to-be grossly underpaid) clients