By Ross Tucker
September 23, 2009

Mark Sanchez won the NFL's version of the lottery the very moment Roger Goodell called his name in New York City and said he was a Jet. At that instant, Sanchez was destined to be the trigger man for a team with a top-flight defense under new coach Rex Ryan as well as a solid offensive line to provide support and a running game.

But Sanchez isn't the only quarterback of late to receive the winning ticket the day he got the phone call, mind you. Not by a long shot. Ben Roethlisberger, Philip Rivers and Joe Flacco are members of the club as well. As in "Congratulations, you've been given the keys to a ready-made winner, just don't screw it up." Yes, Rivers' contract holdout as a rookie delayed his good fortune a year, but the end result is the same.

Not all young quarterbacks are so lucky, of course, and if you take a look at the who's who of busts from earlier this decade, including guys like Tim Couch and Akili Smith, you wonder how they might have fared had they been given the keys to a Rolls Royce instead of a Yugo. And I'm sorry Matthew Stafford, but you didn't win, although I'm sure you realize that by now. You are going to have to make your way towards NFL success the long and hard way. Feel free to ask guys like Troy Aikman and Peyton Manning for advice; they weren't out-of-the-gate lottery winners either. Their championship teams were built around them over the years.

Before I feel the wrath of everyone in New York and New Jersey, not to mention Steeler Nation, please note that I am not trying to diminish what any of the lottery winners have accomplished. Well, OK, maybe it is a veiled shot at some of the chosen few that have had unprecedented success as a result of the guys they have playing around them.

But they didn't screw it up, and that is saying quite a bit. Like Roethlisberger, Rivers and Flacco, Sanchez has done an admirable job. His greatest asset, so far, has been his ability to stay away from the big mistake. He made one against Houston that didn't cost him, mainly because of the Jets defense. Right behind his ability to minimize mistakes is his knack for making plays in critical situations, most notably in the red zone and on third down.

To their credit, all of the veterans in my little recent lottery winner group have taken their good fortune and run with it. Roethlisberger, Rivers and Flacco have grown by leaps and bounds from their first years as a starter. They have each gone from being along for the ride to driving the bus. Big Ben is as clutch as they come in the NFL with 18 game-winning drives already in his young career. Rivers put up MVP-quality numbers last season and has his side of the ball on the right track again this season. All Flacco has done in Baltimore is given the Ravens their best offensive attack since, well, ever. They finally have a unit that doesn't necessarily have to play second fiddle to Ray Lewis' defense.

There are other quarterbacks, like Eli Manning and Matt Ryan, to name a couple, who were drafted into pretty good situations as well. But not like Sanchez & Co. Atlanta's defense is still admittedly a work in progress and Manning's Giants didn't get dominant along the offensive line or on defense until the 2007 Super Bowl run. That's why they aren't lottery winners in my mind.

It is important to know that winning the lottery as a quarterback is not exactly fool-proof. Just like real lottery winners go bankrupt, there are some signal callers who either don't realize or don't take advantage of their good fortune. See Young, Vince. He had everything right at his finger tips. Now it's debatable whether he'll ever get to play again -- though at 0-2, the Titans are certainly looking for some answers right now. I'm going to go out on a really small limb and say Young is not the solution to what is ailing the Titans after two heart-breaking defeats. Unless he can play defensive back. Then maybe he could help.

No, the Titans are going to have to figure this one out another way. They will try to turn things around, ironically, against Sanchez and his Jets this week. Tennessee would seem to be way too talented and well-coached to fall to 0-3 while losing to a rookie quarterback, but that's similar to what most experts thought before the Jets defeated the Texans and the Patriots. Tennessee may be going against a guy starting only his third NFL game under center, but he clearly is a guy who knows the situation he has been placed into and is taking full advantage of it.

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