Is N.Y. Jets' QB Mark Sanchez ready for next step?

Here's the thing with Mark Sánchez: He can go through these periods where he looks so downright miserable you wonder if he'll ever develop into an elite quarterback. And, seemingly out of nowhere, he'll throw a pass that convinces you it's only a matter of time before he can.

Case in point: A Monday night preseason game against the Giants was one of those games when Sánchez looked all discombobulated. He rushed some throws, forced others, and was wildly inaccurate on still others. Through the late part of the second quarter against a very good Giants' defense, Sánchez was a miserable 4-of-10 for just 13 yards.

And then, there it was ...

On second and 2 from the Giants' 17, Sánchez dropped back and looked for Plaxico Burress over the middle. Covered. The quarterback then looked to his second read, and saw Santonio Holmes on a post route. Sánchez threaded the ball perfectly to his go-to receiver, and Holmes made the catch for the Jets' first touchdown of the night.

Grind it out, try not to turn the ball over even when you're not on your game, keep chucking it and good things will happen.

"It was a slow start, but I was proud of the offense for weathering the storm," Sánchez said afterward.

It was the latest example of the steady progression Sánchez has shown in this, only his third NFL preseason. Has he arrived? No, of course not. Even after helping the Jets to the AFC Championship Game in each of his first two seasons, there is still plenty of room for improvement. But is he taking the kind of steps that any quarterback who dreams of winning a Super Bowl must take to position himself to get there? Absolutely.

And that includes the passes that might make him look timid to throw down the field, the check-downs to the running backs that don't go for big yardage. Sánchez threw a bunch of them in the preseason, but what he didn't throw were a bunch of interceptions. In fact, he didn't throw a single pick in his three preseason appearances.

It doesn't mean he'll be mistake-free once the games began to count, and it doesn't guarantee he won't commit the untimely turnover. All quarterbacks -- even the great ones -- have their share of misfortune. But Sánchez continues to show positive signs at the tender age of 24, and there's no reason to think the improvement won't continue in both the near and distant future.

"I showed a little progress from last year in getting it to the backs, scrambling for a couple of yards on first down, giving us a second-and-manageable and keeping the chains moving," Sánchez said.

Sánchez continues to trust his instincts, that if he's not comfortable throwing deep, then there's no shame in taking the check-down to the running back. So for those of you who think the Jets are babying Sánchez by not allowing him to throw long, appreciate instead the fact that Sánchez is showing more patience by deciding to come back for another series instead of risking a potentially game-changing turnover.

"I thought at times, he threw the ball really well," head coach Rex Ryan said. "He had a couple balls tipped, I was happy with the way Mark played. He avoided the rush, they get after the quarterback pretty well. He was able to avoid the rush a little bit and ran the ball some so I was happy to see that."

And don't forget: In preseason, teams are just running plays not specific to the opposition, so what you're seeing now will be completely different from what you see in the regular season. Which means you just might see Sánchez throwing it downfield more often when he sees the potential for a big play.

"I know once we do have a game plan, we'll know exactly what the personnel are on each play, we'll know exact formations and we won't be subbing guys in-and-out," he said. "That slows you down on offense and slows down your momentum and your continuity."

He's excited about the possibilities of this offense, and he should be. No, it won't be the four-touchdowns-a-game machine that Plaxico Burress and Derrick Mason have talked about. Forget that. But it will be a more effective offense than we've seen in Sánchez's first two seasons. It will be that way because the quarterback is ready for the next step in his progression. Even when you think there are times when he's not, there's that throw that makes you realize it's time.

Last Sunday, Sánchez showed the Bay area of his great potential. He passed for a career-high 369 yards and rushed for a touchdown in the Jets' 34-24 loss to the Oakland Raiders.