In an expected and long-awaited move, the Jets announced the 26-year-old quarterback had surgery on his throwing shoulder late Tuesday. The news came only a day after rookie Geno Smith led the Jets to a 30-28 upset in Atlanta on Monday Night Football.
Sanchez put off season-ending surgery for several weeks in hopes of rehabilitating the torn labrum in his right shoulder. But despite signs of progress during periodic visits with surgeon James Andrews, he said he was told he couldn't delay the inevitable any longer.
"After over seven weeks of hard work and intense rehab, I've been advised by Dr. Andrews and other doctors that my shoulder injury clearly needs to be addressed surgically,'' Sanchez said in a statement posted to the team's website. "The injury was recovering at an encouraging rate early on, and I avoided surgery as long as I could, but ultimately I was counseled by the doctors that they simply would have to repair my shoulder.''
For the first time since his rookie season, Sanchez arrived for the offseason conditioning program in competition for the starting job. It appeared he was on his way to beating out Smith until he was injured.
With a Snoopy Trophy at stake Aug. 24 in Week 3 of the preseason against the Giants, Rex Ryan inexplicably inserted Sanchez early in the fourth quarter behind a makeshift offensive line of backups.
Sanchez was standing eating sunflower seeds on the sideline with other starters, and he had been given no prior indication that he would play in the game. But instead of inserting first-year quarterback Matt Simms, who had been spotted warming up, the Jets tabbed Sanchez to replace Smith, who threw three interceptions in his first start of the preseason.
Sanchez was sacked by Giants tackle Marvin Austin on his first play. About five minutes later, after completing a 23-yard pass, he was drilled in the right shoulder by Austin.
When questioned after the game about playing Sanchez, Ryan said: "That was my decision. That was a coach's decision all the way.''
Although the Jets were aware Sanchez wouldn't be healthy enough for Week 1 of the regular season, for weeks they labeled his injury "day-to-day.''
Last month, general manager John Idzik placed Sanchez on injured reserve, with a designation to return to action in eight weeks. But to the surprise of no one, their "day-to-day'' diagnosis has given way to a season-ending injury and the end of Sanchez's tenure with the team.
"Throughout this process, our goal has been to provide Mark every opportunity to return this season,'' Idzik said in a statement. "He and our medical staff have worked very diligently to that end and now it has been concluded that surgery is required. He will have our full support for a complete recovery.''
Sanchez's AFC Championship Game appearances in his first two seasons have long since been overshadowed by his recent struggles -- namely his NFL-leading 52 turnovers in 2011 and 2012 and, worse yet, his infamous "butt fumble'' last season against the Patriots.
And now the former USC quarterback, whom the Jets traded up to draft fifth overall 41/2 years ago, will likely end his playing days as a Jet with 68 touchdown passes and 69 interceptions.
"I'm very disappointed that I can't be out there to help my team on the field, but I'll continue to help our team in whatever capacity I can,'' Sanchez said in the statement. "I want to thank Dr. [Ken] Montgomery,
Dr. Andrews, Dr. [Joseph] Burns and Jets trainer John Melody for helping me through this process and advising me along the way. All doctors expect a full recovery and I look forward to getting back on the field. Until then, go Jets!''