"I just wanted to thank him for the opportunity to compete against him and tell him it was an honor to do so, just like I have against every coach I played against this year,'' the rookie Sanchez said.
And the football?
"It's right there,'' he said, pointing into his locker's top shelf.
For Sanchez, it might as well have been a ball of gold.
Carson Palmer played like a rookie.
The lines for both were startling.
Sanchez: 12 of 15 (a Jets' playoff-record 80 percent completion percentage) for 182 yards, a long completion of 45 yards, one touchdown, zero sacks and a 139.4 passer rating.
Palmer: 18 of 36 for 146 yards, a long completion of 19 yards, one touchdown, one interception, three sacks and a 58.3 passer rating.
Each team rushed for exactly 171 yards. Each team had a running back top the 100-yard mark.
It was true that Sanchez's defense gave him two turnovers to work with, while Palmer's defense gave him none. It was true that Sanchez's receivers made big catches as defenders knocked them silly, while often Bengals receivers dropped big passes when they were popped.
But the bottom line was that Sanchez outplayed Palmer in all the big moments in this game -- and that is a major reason why the Jets advance and the Bengals stay home.
Jets coach Rex Ryan keeps telling everyone that his team is good. But when he says it, he really does not care whether you believe it or not. He is sending a message to his players. He is trying to build their confidence into brick-like endurance.
And if you say something long enough, if you keep pounding it into the heads of young men, sometimes it can come true. In the Sanchez/Palmer matchup, Sanchez used the push from his coach and the constant reach for greatness that is his core to topple a fellow USC quarterback alum and advance.
He proved to be a quick study.
He took all he learned from playing the Bengals last week and applied it here. He knew the game plan "backward and forward,'' his coaches said, and he executed it in the manner they desired. The Jets ran it 41 times. But in 15 plays through the air, Sanchez wound up gaining more yards than the Jets did on the ground.
"It's like chopping a tree,'' Jets center Nick Mangold said. "You keep whacking at it and it will fall down. We kept pounding the run at them and picked our spots with Mark and he made the most of them. The way we can run it, you have to respect that.''
And once the Bengals did, once they committed everything to negating the Jets running game, Sanchez and the Jets killed them with bootlegs and play-fakes and counter plays that the Bengals could not handle.
It is called getting "out of the back door.''
The Jets' explosive plays came in this manner -- among them Shonn Greene's 39-yard touchdown run and Sanchez's 45-yard touchdown pass to tight end Dustin Keller.
The Jets in through front door. Out through the back door.
Sanchez had 20 interceptions during the regular season -- but none today.
"They did some of the same things they have been doing, only they did them better,'' Bengals linebacker Dhani Jones said. "They got a lot of yards on two or three big plays. Sanchez did a good job of making checks and calls, looking off the defense, and his bootlegs were tough to handle.''
The Jets defense helped turn the game their way when they forced a Bengals turnover at the Jets 26 on the game's first drive. That ruined a 56-yard kickoff return by Cincinnati's Bernard Scott to open the game. The Bengals would score on their next possession and lead 7-0, but both teams knew Cincinnati could have had more points at that juncture. That it should have been worse for the Jets.
The Jets then scored 21 consecutive points in the second and third quarters.
And even though the Bengals were able to rebound, two short field goal misses by kicker Shayne Graham helped ruin their chances.
Palmer, though, rarely looked like Palmer.
"We never really got into rhythm,'' Palmer said. "From the turnover to the missed field goals to their huge plays, awkward plays, a naked bootleg that went for 40 yards ... things happened in this game that haven't happened to us all year. It was very frustrating.
"I was throwing the ball a little high. I don't know if it was jitters or not, but I was missing some balls early. But I felt like I started to get it back as the game went on. It's a good defense. It's a top-ranked defense and what makes them so good is their secondary. They did a good job. They might have a chance to make a run if their defense is that good.''
Sounds like Palmer is becoming a believer in the Jets.
He could see that Sanchez is maturing quickly and that Jets offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer has saved his best work for last. And with the defense and running game that complements Sanchez, he has only his job to do. And that is to protect the ball, make quick and accountable decisions, use his jazzy feet as much as his arm and continue to grow from accomplishments like this one.
Ryan, dressed in a grey suit after the game, was applying the final brush strokes to his hair in the coaches' locker room here as he gushed over his quarterback and his team.
"In some ways, this team is becoming whole,'' Ryan said. "I want them believing they are good, because they are. I have told this team that sometimes the defense has to pick up the offense, sometimes the offense has to pick up the defense and sometimes the special teams will have to do it for both. But it won't be too long here, one day and one day soon, that Mark Sanchez is going to become the clear strength of our football team.''
For now, for Sanchez, who just completed his 17th NFL game and gained his first playoff victory, this role will do.