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NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) - The decision is in, and it’s a controversial one.
Rex Ryan is sticking with Mark Sanchez as the New York Jets’ starting quarterback.
The team announced on Wednesday morning that Sanchez, benched last Sunday against Arizona, will get the start over Greg McElroy and Tim Tebow when the Jets play the Jaguars at Jacksonville.
Sanchez was pulled late in the third quarter, and McElroy came in and led the Jets to the only touchdown of the game on his first NFL drive, helping New York to a 7-6 victory. Sanchez was 10-of-21 for 97 yards and three interceptions, while McElroy was 5-of-7 for 29 yards.
Ryan said on Monday that he needed “a little more time” to consult with his staff before making the decision for this week. It was perhaps the biggest call in Ryan’s nearly four years as coach of the Jets, considering the sensitivity of the situation and the possible ramifications.
“It is a decision that I feel great about,” Ryan told reporters at a news conference on Wednesday. “I had conversations with a lot of different people. I’m comfortable with the decision and I’m looking forward to watching Mark play.”
Sanchez, whose confidence was shaken with Sunday’s miserable performance, gets a chance to bounce back from the first benching of his NFL career and regain the trust of his teammates. He has struggled the last several weeks, with two touchdowns and five interceptions in his last four games. He’ll likely be on a short leash against Jacksonville — with McElroy possibly ready to go.
Sanchez, meanwhile, knows that he has to improve if he wants to stay on the field.
“I’ll just keep working, go study this film and keep trying to improve,” Sanchez said Sunday after the game. “I need to understand where the mistakes came from, keep studying, keep preparing, be ready to play next week and see what happens.”
Ryan added that his quarterback has all the tools to be a winning quarterback, but it’s imperative that he make better decisions.
“Mark Sanchez gives us the best chance to win,” Ryan said. “(But) he has to play better and he has to protect the ball better.”
It’s uncertain if Tebow will be active against his hometown Jaguars after sustaining two broken ribs. He was medically cleared by team doctors to play, but Ryan chose to keep him active but not play him against New England on Thanksgiving night. He then made him inactive against Arizona.
Ryan did say that if Tebow was completely healthy, then he would be the team’s No. 2 quarterback this week. But because Tebow’s status is unknown at this time, Ryan won’t commit to a No. 1 backup for this week.
If Ryan chose to start McElroy, a seventh-round pick in 2011 out of Alabama, it would have been a clear message that the franchise is moving on from Sanchez.
The coach denied that money played a role in the decision, despite the fact that Sanchez is owed $8.25 million next year in guarantees. When asked how much the contract situation factored into the decision, Ryan said, “Absolutely zero.”
The Jets are likely stuck with Sanchez and his contract, so they need to see if he can rebound. If he can’t, it will be an intriguing offseason for New York, especially since Tebow has not played much since being acquired from Denver in March and he might not be back next year.
It didn’t appear that Tebow was much of a factor in Ryan’s decision. Ryan said all three quarterbacks would be in the mix, but he didn’t want to speculate as to whether he would have pulled Sanchez in favor of Tebow last Sunday if he were active.
Tebow was expected to have a major role in the offense, but instead has been just a spare part averaging about seven offensive snaps per game. He has been listed as the No. 2 quarterback on the depth chart, but if the Jets turned to McElroy, it would have meant that the No. 3 guy leapfrogged Tebow to start for the Jets.
Ryan insisted, however, that he has faith in all three of his quarterbacks.
“I believe we can win with all three quarterbacks,” Ryan said. “Tim’s proven that he can win. Mark’s done the same thing here … Greg (McElroy) took it to a higher level (on Sunday). I have confidence in all three guys.”
Although Ryan said it wouldn’t factor into his decision, the fact that the team is playing on the road for the next two games should also help Sanchez.
He was booed mercilessly by the MetLife Stadium crowd last Sunday, particularly after each interception, and chants for McElroy were heard throughout the game. McElroy was cheered as he warmed up late in the third quarter, and there was growing sentiment among some fans and media that he earned a start after lifting the team.
The Jets are hoping he also sparked Sanchez, whom they deemed the face of the franchise just a few years ago when they traded up in the draft in 2009 and took him with the fifth overall pick. He helped lead New York to consecutive trips to the AFC championship game for the first time in team history, but it has been a bumpy ride since. Sanchez has been criticized the last two seasons for failing to take the next step in his development, and Ryan has been knocked for sticking with the quarterback for too long.
The two have been joined at the hip, and stand side-by-side during the national anthem before every game. Ryan was seen in the locker room consoling Sanchez after the game, his arm on his shoulder as the two spoke for a few minutes. Until last Sunday, the threat of being benched — even with Tebow on the roster — didn’t appear to be a real possibility.
Now, Ryan has sent the message to Sanchez: Perform or else.
“This was a decision that took a great deal of thought,” Ryan said. “I believe Mark has a skill set that is pretty impressive. He can make all the throws. The thing that Mark needs to do a better job of is protect the football.”
What do you think of the decision, Jets fans? Sound off with your thoughts and comments below…
(TM and Copyright 2012 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2012 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)