Mark Sanchez Can’t Wait To Watch ‘A Quarterback Matchup For The Ages’ In Super Bowl LVI

There’s one more football game left before the 2021 NFL season comes to an end, and it’s one that no one saw coming at the start of the postseason. A pair of four seeds, Cincinnati Bengals and the Los Angeles Rams, made it through their respective conferences and punched their tickets to the Super Bowl in the Rams’ home stadium, SoFi Field. In a fun twist, the Bengals are the home team, but that’s a discussion for another day.

The two teams are led by quarterbacks who are making their first Super Bowl at different points in their careers. Los Angeles is led by grizzled veteran Matthew Stafford, who they acquired in a trade this past offseason, while Cincinnati has second-year signal caller Joe Burrow at the helm. It’s hard not to get excited by the matchup, and that sentiment is held by quarterback-turned-broadcaster Mark Sanchez.

“This is a quarterback matchup for the ages,” Sanchez told Uproxx Sports over Zoom through his partnership with Papa John’s.

Sanchez recognizes some similarities between both guys, and earlier this week, he broke down what he’s seen out of both Burrow and Stafford this year. Sanchez also dove into Los Angeles as a sports town, life in the broadcast booth, and more.

Thanks to Niners fans buying tickets to the game last weekend, it feels like Los Angeles has been getting dragged a little bit as a sports city. As someone who’s from the area, played high school and college ball there, are there any specific things that make L.A. such a special sports city?

Well, it is a passionate fan base. Playing college here, playing high school here — especially football — it’s a big deal. But you just have to remember that there are so many outlets. And whether it’s the beach, the mountains, the desert, hop, skip, and a jump, or all the teams. You got basketball, football, baseball, hockey, women’s sports, they have it all here. So, it’s spread a little thin, I would say. And there’s a lot of other things getting people’s attention. And Niners fans, they travel really well.

It’s also a destination city. So, a place like SoFi, you’re gonna get people just like the new stadium in Vegas. You’re gonna plan your away game in a destination city like Los Angeles. It’s a special place to play, and especially when you get to play in iconic stadiums like the Rose Bowl, like the Coliseum. That is pretty special.

Yeah, I’ve always gotten the vibe that, I don’t want to make it sound like I’m calling it a front-running city or anything like that, but in L.A., there are so many big events going on that you’re constantly competing to be the biggest show in town. Is that a fair read on it?

Oh, that’s fair. You’re always competing with the next big thing, the newest, best thing, and you have, as I mentioned, so many iconic venues, and it just seems to grow and grow with this new stadium, and now the home of the Super Bowl.

I want to talk about you as a broadcaster. Correct me if I’m wrong, this is your first year doing games in the booth.

Correct. This is my first year of calling games.

What’s it been like getting to do that?

My first two years were in studio exclusively, and I was doing stuff with ESPN, ABC, more college football focus, doing a little bit of NFL stuff on the show Get Up with Mike Greenberg, which was a great experience for me. And I kind of got my feet wet and understood what it’s like to talk on television, figuring it out, understanding the lay of the land. That was a two year deal with ESPN and ABC.

Right after that, Fox came, CBS reached out, and I interviewed at both places, ended up taking the job at Fox partially because of the location being in Los Angeles. Not having to get across the country to Bristol for ESPN and being able to just drive up to the Fox lot made things pretty easy. I can’t lie, I was definitely nervous to call games. I think I got into a groove much earlier than I thought, and it’s a lot like playing — when that thing kicks off, you have a plan, you have an idea, and you’ve gone through it so many times in your head, but there’s always something. There’s always something that changes, always a blitz or a look or a coverage that you didn’t expect, and you got to be ready for the unexpected as a player and then on TV, especially live TV.

It’s just different. Sometimes the telestrator goes out, sometimes we don’t have replay, sometimes your monitor goes out, sometimes you can’t hear your producer in your ear, and you just gotta roll because people are watching and they don’t know at home. Or sometimes you screw up a telestration — I think my biggest pet peeve is when we’re responsible, as the analyst, for drawing with that yellow marker, and highlighting certain things. And you got to clear the screen every time, so if you forget, if you have something you want to point out, and you click the icon to get it, and then you don’t use it, you have to remember you’re on that icon for the next time if you don’t clear the screen. So, it’s a tricky thing that you got to get used to, but I got caught a couple of times and the people who know, like my family members, would text me mid-game, “nice job on the highlighter, nice job on whatever,” they give me a hard time. But it was a great experience, I really enjoyed it.

So as an ex-quarterback, do you find yourself focusing on quarterback play? Are your eyes naturally going downfield and watching wide receivers and pass coverage? Or from your perspective, is it easy to be able to watch and analyze basically everything as a play’s going on?

Admittedly, I gravitate to the offense naturally. I gravitate to the quarterback, I see a lot, mechanics-wise. I have a pretty good idea of what these teams are going to do going into it just for my film study and my background in the NFL, but I really got to push to understand the defensive concepts … maybe not understand, but see them and then talk about them because I’m so offensive-focused, I got to remind myself — and thanks to our producer, Mark Teitelman, he would remind me sometimes, “hey, don’t forget to talk about defense.” And I’m like, nobody cares about that anyway. [laughs]

It’s interesting, because you watch the play live, and then they immediately rewind an all-22 version, and so you see it in reverse. And from years of watching film, when you’re watching in reverse, you’re still taking in information — you still can see routes in reverse, and you see how they got to the final product. And then you see it one more time, and then there’s a delay on, like, a high end zone camera, also, so you can see the back end, you can see the sideline view. So you see it once in real time, once in reverse again on the all-22, and then a delay from the high end zone angle, then the replay comes on TV. So you see it two or three, sometimes four times, so you have a pretty good idea of what you’re looking at.

I didn’t realize that when I first started, I just thought you see the play and talk about it, and then once I got all that extra information, it’s like watching film as the game is going on. That made it so much easier, especially that high end zone camera, because you can really see runs, how they’re developing, blitzes, which gaps, what stunts they’re running up front, that really helps. I kind of unmasked that whole thing there — it’s not as hard as it looks, maybe. You get a lot of video angles to cheat on.

I think you have a good perspective on both of the quarterbacks in the Super Bowl. With Matt, you’re a guy who was in his draft class. Have you noticed any evolution in his game compared to the guy he was coming into the league, or the guy he was in Detroit? Or do you think this is just a matter of this being the most well-rounded team he’s played on, and he’s just responding to that?

Well, I think it’s a mixture of both. You got to understand, he’s a flat out, baller. He’s one of the best arm talents I’ve ever been around, in shorts and t-shirts and obviously in the games. He can throw it from every angle, he’s got that Rich Gannon sidearm to his game when a guy’s running a shallow cross, like Mahomes made has made pretty popular. But he can put it in between gaps, he’s got the no-look thing nailed. It’s so impressive to watch this guy play. And arm strength, as well, he’s one of the best I’ve ever seen do it.

Now, he’s in a position where he doesn’t have to do everything. I think he’s really understanding, after being in Detroit, where it was all on him — he’s either gonna throw for four touchdowns and 400 yards, or it was gonna be tough sledding that day. And they put so much pressure on him, he had to take a lot more chances, in my opinion. And this is just from afar, I think now that he’s in a position where he’s got a run game, he’s got multiple weapons at the receiver position, I think he’s really understood that there’s going to be a time to make a big play, there’s going to be a time to make the defense pay for a look that they give you, capitalize on a blitz, or whatever it is. And he’s starting to realize — just through this season, I believe, and I think he’s only getting better — that he doesn’t have to do it all. He’s got such a good supporting cast, he can let these guys work for him, be the point guard, and then, when it’s time to hit the fadeaway three pointer, boom, I got that one in my bag still.

To me, that’s his mentality, but I love his demeanor. I know he’s got that sly smile, but he’s such a competitive sucker, man. A coin flip, rock, paper, scissors, a board game, he just wants to beat you, and he wants to embarrass your ass. That’s how he is, and I love that about him. So, it’s nice to see him having the success I think he deserves.

Then with Joe, you know a thing or two about getting to these huge games early in a quarterback’s career. Do you notice any things — in his game, in the situation, in anything like that — that you recognize similarities between the first couple years of Mark Sanchez and the first couple years of Joe Burrow?

Let’s start here: There are two very different models for quarterbacks, right? Yes, we both played right away, but the teams are built much differently. We had a top-5 defense — not that the Bengals aren’t a good defense, but we were a top-5 defense my first three years, I think. A top rushing attack my first couple years. So, very little was put on my shoulders. We threw the ball far less than Burrow had to. We had some really difficult third-and-longs because we’d run on first and second down frequently. So, very different makeup and plan of attack offensively. He’s the guy. Much like Stafford was in Detroit early in his career, he’s got to play well for these guys to win. At times, my rookie year, we won in spite of me, it looked like I was trying to lose the game throwing it to the wrong guy. But we had such a good team, and we were so well-rounded, that we made up for a lot of mistakes.

He can’t afford to make those mistakes, because he’s going to put the ball up 35, 40-plus times every week. And I think the most impressive thing, and I’ll finish with this for him, but he has no fear. You got to remember, he’s barely through a full [second] season. So, taking that into account, and what he’s already accomplished, and the way he’s playing, the number of times he’s got to throw it, how accurate he’s been, and then he’s got no fear. The guy just tore his ACL a little over a year ago, and he hangs in the pocket better than anybody. He stands in there, and there’s traffic around his feet. He won a playoff game and took nine sacks. Are you kidding me? You sack a guy that many times, naturally their eyes are going to drop and start looking at the rush instead of looking downfield. This dude doesn’t flinch, and it is so impressive to watch.

The plays that he hangs in the pocket, he knows he’s just gonna get hammered. And he stands in there, delivers the rock, takes it on the chin, gets up, smiles, and smokes a cigar after the game. There’s something to that. He’s very similar to Matt Stafford, very similar makeup, Joe Burrow’s a little more new age. I don’t know about these new glasses he’s got, we got to work on those. But he’s just a straight up baller as well, so this is a quarterback matchup for the ages.

What do you got going on with Papa John’s? And then I need to know what your pizza eating method is: are you one hand and fold? No fold? Do not say knife and fork — you played in New York and they will be mad at that.

No, that’d be crazy. I’m a fold guy. I do enjoy the thin crust, New York crust style, and that’s what Papa John’s has introduced. So basically, they’re asking fans to get involved, and this goes all the way through Feb. 16. But most importantly, the Super Bowl is the biggest day for pizza orders, naturally. And they polled a bunch of fans, it turns out New York style pizza is the number one choice, over Detroit, over Chicago, and all the other ones.

But they basically want fans to get involved and go on Twitter, go on Instagram, show yourself eating your pizza folded up, however you eat it — hopefully not with a fork — and basically just #WhatsYourStyle and #Sweepstakes, because everybody’s got their own unique style, especially in this day and age, people are trying to promote their uniqueness, what makes them them, and this is your chance to show that off.