ARLINGTON, Texas - You don't ever forget something like the Butt Fumble. Even if you tried, there's always going to be an annoying sports writer, probably one from New York, who's going to come up to you and remind you about it.
"It sucked," Mark Sanchez said. "I ran into some guy's butt and dropped the ball on the turf and they scored. I don't know if it gets [any worse than that]. This is like my favorite holiday, so that's not cool. It was really a bummer."
That was two Thanksgivings ago, when Sanchez's career was unraveling with the Jets. The Butt Fumble looked like it might be the poor guy's legacy. They wouldn't remember the two AFC Championship Games he started. They would only remember the Butt Fumble.
But that was before Nick Foles got hurt and Sanchez got a second chance to jump-start his career. That was before last night when he went out on the Thanksgiving Day national stage again and claimed redemption.
"The game plan was to try not to do that [run into an offensive lineman's rear end and fumble] and we accomplished it," Sanchez joked after leading the Eagles to an impressive 33-10 win over the Dallas Cowboys on their home turf. "Twenty-seven yards rushing is just icing on the cake."
Actually, it was 28. Who needs Marcus Mariota when Sanchez is gobbling up yards on zone reads, right?
We are quick to write premature obituaries in professional sports. An athlete falls down, struggles; we rush to throw dirt on his career.
That was the case with Sanchez after the Butt Fumble and his ignominious exit from New York.
He signed a 1-year deal with the Eagles to back up Foles. But then Foles fractured his collarbone in Week 9 against Houston and Sanchez was given a second chance. And he is making the most of it.
He has started four games for the Eagles and they have won three of them. None was bigger than yesterday's. With the NFC East lead on the line, Sanchez played his best game since, well, in a long time, completing 20 of 29 passes for 217 yards, throwing for a touchdown and running for another. And, oh yeah, not turning the ball over.
In 15 previous quarters since replacing Foles, Sanchez had turned the ball over eight times. Against the Cowboys, he had none.
"That was huge," he said. "[If] you don't turn it over, you're at least going to give yourself a chance."
For the second straight week, Sanchez led the Eagles to touchdowns on their first two possessions. Completed four of five passes for 30 yards on their first possession, then capped off the nine-play, 80-yard drive by scoring on a 2-yard run off a zone read.
Then he completed five of six passes for 69 yards on the Eagles' second possession, including a 27-yard touchdown strike to rookie wide receiver Jordan Matthews, to give the Eagles a 14-0 lead.
"We really wanted to start fast," Sanchez said. "We really wanted to keep our tempo going. I thought we were able to establish that today."
Sanchez's pass to Matthews came on an outside-the-pocket throw. Faked a handoff, rolled left and threw a strike to the rookie, who was running a right-to-left crossing pattern. Sanchez may not have a particularly strong arm, but he's very good at throwing while running to his left.
"He ran a great route," Sanchez said. "We protected the heck out of it. They got me out of the pocket a little bit. I just tried to keep him going in stride.
"Those are the ones that [if] you try to get too cute on it, you almost slow him up. You want to just take it in rhythm, exhale and let it go."
On the Eagles' third possession, Sanchez converted a second-and-19, connecting with Jeremy Maclin on a 58-yard catch-and-run that led to the first of Cody Parkey's four field goals.
"They were in two-deep [coverage] and Mark made a great read," head coach Chip Kelly said. "The corner kind of sat. We had [Darren] Sprolesy coming out of the backfield, and Mark made a great decision to put the ball in the hole and Mac picked up some yards after the catch."
Sanchez's 28 rushing yards were the second most of his career. When he ran zone reads last week against Tennessee, the Titans defense pretty much ignored him, daring him to run.
This week, he did.
"Somebody said I had 27 yards [actually 28], so I better go ice down," Sanchez said. "You just gotta read it out and continue to trust it. That's been one of the toughest things for me. Coach has been great.
"The one down on the goal line [his TD run], Foles helped out a lot. Just when we were watching film and watching run plays and stuff, he'll just chime in and say, 'Hey, that's a give, that's a key,' when we were watching his film and other film of Dallas. He was a huge help. You just gotta read it."
This is what Kelly saw when he decided to offer Sanchez a 1-year contract last March. An experienced quarterback who could step in and help the Eagles win football games, big football games.
"He's just getting more comfortable," Kelly said. "I said it earlier in the week, he missed an entire year of football. There's no substitution for playing. He played well in the preseason, but then sat until the Houston game.
"I think he's just starting to get more comfortable, starting to recognize the looks he's getting. Sometimes he's getting to his second receiver, third receiver, keeping things alive.
"We got him out of the pocket a few times. I thought he threw the ball well. We used him a couple of times in some run stuff so that they couldn't gang up on the [running] back. I thought he did a nice job in the decision-making aspect of things. Keeping people honest. I thought Mark played a really clean game today."
The one downside to the Eagles' performance yesterday was their poor play in the red zone. They converted just one of five trips inside the 20 into a touchdown. They have converted just five of their last 16 red-zone opportunities.
Sanchez was 2-for-6 in the red zone against the Cowboys. He has completed just 14 of 26 passes inside the 20 since replacing Foles.
"We still left a ton of meat on the bone, man," Sanchez said. "Gosh, we were in the freaking red zone so many times and we didn't convert. As fun as this is, we'll enjoy it for a couple of days. But we still have a lot of work to do."
Sanchez downplayed an on-field argument with wide receiver Riley Cooper with 11 minutes left in the game. There was some confusion between the two that forced Sanchez to call a timeout. The two yelled at each other before Sanchez headed over to the sideline.
"We're a family," he said. "And families get heated and get upset. That's the way it goes. Both of us had something to say and we said it and that was it.
"I'd rather have that than a guy that's just uninterested and doesn't care and doesn't work as hard as Coop does. He's playing his butt off.
"That's the best part about something like that. Neither of us took it any further. That's it. Right or wrong, we move on, because we've got another team to play. No matter what, we're going to play together and play our butts off for each other. Whether we're upset or not."
Nothing could ruin Sanchez's day yesterday. From the scrap heap to 9-3 and first place in the NFC East. From the Thanksgiving Butt Fumble to Thanksgiving hero.
"It's been an incredible journey, just playing in this league," Sanchez said. "Wearing a Jet logo, wearing an Eagles logo, this is an absolute dream come true. The best of times, the worst of times, there still are a lot of people who would like to be in this position, no matter what.
"I'm very thankful. I'm very blessed. Lot of family watching back home. Just wanted to play well for them."