The second act of Mark Sanchez's NFL career started in March when the Eagles gave him a one-year contract to be Nick Foles' understudy. It became more intriguing in August, when Sanchez completed 80.6 percent of his passes during the preseason and appeared to fit in Chip Kelly's offense. But Sanchez finally returned to the spotlight seven weeks ago, when he prepared to start for the first time in nearly two years.
Sanchez remarked how it was a familiar feeling. Much of the last two months have been familiar for Sanchez. He's playing meaningful December football, as he often did while quarterbacking the New York Jets. But his inconsistencies have also become an issue, just as they were with the Jets.
After two consecutive losses, Sanchez kept the starting job for the game against the Washington Redskins on Saturday because Foles still has not been cleared to return from a broken collarbone. The Eagles must beat the Redskins and then root for the Dallas Cowboys to lose on Sunday if they want control of their postseason prospects. Sanchez also needs better performances if he hopes to become more than a backup in the NFL.
"As far as me and my stock, I don't care," Sanchez said. "That doesn't matter. We just want to win some games."
But Sanchez's stock and the Eagles' stock are directly related. Sanchez said after the loss to the Cowboys on Sunday that "it starts with the quarterback." Sanchez inherited the job when the Eagles were 6-2. They are now 9-5. This is not to say that Foles would have led the Eagles to wins over the Green Bay Packers or Seattle Seahawks - or even the Cowboys - but Sanchez is 3-3 as a starter with three quarters of relief work in another win. He has 10 touchdowns and nine interceptions.
By record and statistics, he's been an average quarterback. That is better than most teams can expect from a backup, and Sanchez has allowed the Eagles to stay in playoff contention. But only one team slated for the playoffs has needed to start its backup. The standards for reaching January require Sanchez to do more than be average.
When Kelly was asked if the Eagles are getting good enough quarterbacking to win, he answered: "I think so."
"There have been some good plays, there have been some not-so-good plays," Sanchez said. "That's kind of the way it's gone. We've had some really good games down the stretch, we've been in some really good games. So, we'll see."
Sanchez has a pristine opportunity to finish the season on a strong note. Both the Redskins and the New York Giants are among the NFL's worst defenses in yards allowed per-pass attempt. Their defensive depth charts have been decimated by injuries.
"The most important thing is sustaining drives," Sanchez said. "We can't do the three-and-out thing. Eliminate turnovers. Get some real positive plays on first and second downs, and make those third downs - if we have to get to them - easier."
Sanchez threw five interceptions in his three losses. The Eagles offense is 32.4 percent from third downs in those games. They have averaged only 58.7 offensive plays, which is low for Kelly's teams.
The Eagles have averaged 72.6 offensive plays in their nine wins this season, and 73.3 plays in the three wins with Sanchez as the starter.
Offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur's coaching points to Sanchez after Sunday's loss were to ensure Sanchez keeps his confidence, takes care of the football, and goes back to the fundamentals.
That message came through to Sanchez, who insisted his confidence is not shaken - "Not with the kind of players we have, not with the play-calling we have," he said - and understood why those fundamentals are a priority even in Week 16 of his sixth NFL season.
"When things get tough, when it's hard, when there's a lot of pressure, you've go back to exactly what you learned day one: Fundamentals," Sanchez said. "Two hands on the ball. Stepping up into the pocket. Finishing through your throws. That kind of preparation and training will really set you free on game day."
If there's anything working in Sanchez's favor, it is that he is used to the stage. The moment is not too big for him, and neither praise nor criticism is unfamiliar to the 28-year-old.
"It comes with the territory," Sanchez said. "That's part of the deal when you sign up for this position. If you can't handle it, don't play. Go do something else. But I love it."
Foles and Trent Cole (broken hand) have been declared out for Saturday.