EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — Everywhere Greg McElroy turned, there seemed to be a San Diego Chargers player in his face.
And, for most of the New York Jets quarterback’s day, there was nowhere to go — except into the turf.
McElroy was sacked 11 times in his first NFL start in place of the benched Mark Sanchez as the Chargers’ defense dominated the Jets’ offensive line in a 27-17 victory Sunday.
“Offensively, you’re not beating anybody when you play like that,” coach Rex Ryan said. “It’s just hard to put into words. You get sacked 11 times, it’s extremely frustrating. I expected a lot better, but that never happened.
McElroy, the third-stringer who leapfrogged Tim Tebow on the depth chart, moved the offense for the Jets (6-9) early but faced pressure all game. With a chance to get New York back into it with less than 5 minutes remaining, McElroy was taken down by Shaun Phillips — the Chargers’ eighth sack of the game — and lost the ball. Phillips recovered and San Diego sealed the win, but not before sacking McElroy three more times.
“When he wasn’t on his back, I thought he did some good things,” Ryan said. “I thought he was poised beyond belief taking the kind of heat he was under.”
Led by Kendall Reyes’ 3½ sacks, the Chargers (6-9) tied their team record, finishing one shy of the NFL single-game mark set by a handful of others, the last being the Giants in 2007.
“It was great on their part,” said Ryan, guaranteed his first losing season as Jets coach, “but ridiculous on our part.”
Imagine how McElroy felt, becoming the first Jets quarterback to get sacked that much since David Norrie was taken down 11 times by Dallas in 1987 — a game played by replacements.
“There were just some protection breakdowns, obviously,” McElroy said. “But that’s the nature of the game. The quarterback has to do a better job of getting everyone on the same page.”
He’ll have a week to get that accomplished. Ryan announced after the game that the team’s seventh-round pick out of Alabama last year will start the Jets’ season finale at Buffalo next Sunday.
“He’s a tough guy who took some hits, which was disappointing,” center Nick Mangold said. “He kept getting back up, so that’s a good thing.”
With Chargers coach Norv Turner and general manager A.J. Smith facing uncertain futures — and lots of speculation that they’ll be out after the season — it was a dominant effort by the defense with one game left. San Diego also had 11 sacks against Dallas in 1986. Phillips had 2½ , Corey Liuget added two more, and four other players got to McElroy.
With most of the pregame drama centered around whether Sanchez or Tebow would back up McElroy — turned out, it was both — Philip Rivers threw touchdown tosses of 37 yards to Danario Alexander and 34 yards to Antonio Gates to lead the Chargers. It was the 82nd touchdown catch of Gates’ career, snapping a tie with Lance Alworth for the franchise lead.
Rivers was a modest 11 of 22 for 165 yards, while McElroy finished 14 of 24 for 185 yards with an interception and the lost fumble. Both offenses struggled, but the Chargers’ defense came up big.
“That’s awesome,” Rivers said. “It was certainly fun to watch them when they’re rolling like that.”
Ryan had Sanchez and Tebow active for the home finale, the first time all three quarterbacks were available for a game. With the decision, Ryan avoided having to designate either Sanchez or Tebow as the No. 2 quarterback Sunday. Both were listed as the backup on the team’s flip card in the press box.
Ryan benched Sanchez after the quarterback had five turnovers in New York’s 14-10 loss at Tennessee last Monday night.
The Jets ran the wildcat a handful of times — but with wide receiver Jeremy Kerley instead of Tebow, who stood on the sideline the entire game without getting a snap. Several times throughout the game, with the defense on the field, McElroy and Sanchez often sat with offensive coordinator Tony Sparano, while Tebow was off to the side talking with other teammates.
“It’s been disappointing,” Tebow said of the season. “Obviously, it didn’t go as we though, as I had hoped.”
Moments after McElroy jogged onto the field to big cheers from a half-filled MetLife Stadium, there were loud boos as Micheal Spurlock took a punt 63 yards for a touchdown to put the Chargers up 7-0 just under 2 minutes into the game. It was the first punt returned against the Jets for a touchdown since Oakland’s Phillip Buchanon took one 78 yards in 2003 — a span of 150 games, the longest active streak in the NFL.
The Jets came right back, though, to tie it at 7 on Shonn Greene’s 1-yard touchdown run. After a three-and-out by San Diego, Greene plowed in for another 1-yard score to give New York a 14-7 lead. It was the first time the Jets had at least two touchdowns in the opening quarter since 2009 at Oakland.
NOTES: The Jets held a moment of silence before the game for the victims of the Connecticut shootings, and had banners hung on the sideline with “S.H.E.S” for Sandy Hook Elementary School. Twenty-six people, including 20 children, were killed in the shooting in Newtown last Friday. … Chargers rookie S Brandon Taylor was carted off the field in the third quarter after injuring his right knee. Jets DB Ellis Lankster left in the second half with a concussion.
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