The Jets added a few more bizarre chapters Tuesday to a surreal quarterback storyline that has grabbed the headlines for the better part of nine months. One day after Rex Ryan’s loyalty to Mark Sanchez cost the Jets a chance at the playoffs, the coach pulled the plug on the supposed franchise quarterback by replacing him with the third-string quarterback who hadn’t been active for two weeks. Greg McElroy will make his first career start against the Chargers at MetLife Stadium on Sunday, three weeks after he relieved Sanchez in the second half of a 7-6 win over the Cardinals.
Ryan’s decision was a stunning indictment not only of Sanchez, once believed to be the future of the franchise, but also backup Tim Tebow, who has become an afterthought.
But Ryan’s decision to bench Sanchez wasn’t the only domino to fall less than 24 hours after the Jets were mathematically eliminated from the playoffs.
The Daily News has learned that Tebow, who captivated the NFL last season with his miracle playoff run in Denver, will request to be traded or released after the season assuming that McElroy starts the final two games. Tebow’s desire to part ways with a franchise that never gave him a chance came to a head after McElroy, who has seven career passes on his NFL resume, leapfrogged him, according to a source.
“I want to put Greg out there,” Ryan said on Tuesday. “I’m going to put Greg out there. In my opinion, that’s what’s best for our team.”
Ryan admitted that he told Sanchez after Monday night’s disastrous loss in Tennessee that he would bench him this week. “I told Mark we needed to make a change,” Ryan said. “He respected my decision.”
Ryan and Sanchez’s four-year run began with so much promise with back-to-back AFC Championship Game appearances in the first two seasons. But it ended with a pair of disappointing seasons. Ryan made the decision to start McElroy instead of Tebow on Tuesday.
Ryan said that he “had a lot of conversations” with people in the organization, but it was ultimately his call to bench Sanchez, who had started every game of his career except one late in his rookie year due to a knee injury.
“This is my decision and solely my decision,” said Ryan, who didn’t commit to McElroy as the starter beyond this week.
Ryan had no choice but to make the switch after Sanchez’s miserable five-turnover performance in Monday night’s 14-10 loss to the Titans on Monday night. Sanchez has a league-high 50 turnovers since the start of last season.
Ryan benched Sanchez late in the third quarter three weeks ago after he threw three interceptions. McElroy rallied the Jets to a 7-6 win over the Cardinals on that day, but he was inactive for the next two games. “I liked what I saw from Greg against Arizona,” Ryan said. “I like what I see on the practice field.”
Although the prospect of having Sanchez under center in front of a disgruntled home fan base on Sunday would appear to have made the decision easier for Ryan, the prevailing thought in the organization was that the upcoming game’s locale didn’t really matter.
“Home or away . . . I don’t care where the game is being played,” one prominent member of the organization told The News said before Ryan made it official. “There’s no way that he starts.”
Sanchez lost some trust of teammates after his poor performances in the recent months, but many wanted to give him another chance after Ryan benched him in the second half against the Cardinals in Week 13.
Although players didn’t explicitly point fingers at Sanchez after his five-turnover performance on Monday night, the vibe was apparent: The quarterback’s blunders were the primary reasons that the Jets dropped too 6-8 and out of playoff contention.
“I can’t speak for everybody,” safety LaRon Landry said. “That’s not my job (to speak about the offense). I’m a defender. That’s why they’ve got guys upstairs and coaches. They make that decision.”
Sanchez shouldn’t be exonerated for his poor decision-making and execution on Monday night, but the Jets made a couple of curious decisions that proved counterproductive. Ryan inexplicably chose to activate six wide receivers rather than dress McElroy. The Jets also predetermined that Tebow, who hadn’t played in three weeks due to a lingering rib injury, would get a full series for the first time this season on the third drive.
Sanchez moved the Jets well on their first two drives, but watched from the sidelines when the Tebow-led drive went nowhere.
“I don’t set standards for Mark,” right guard Brandon Moore said. “Mark is doing the best he can. You can’t take away his commitment and his approach to the game.”
The bigger question is whether the Jets’ brain trust undercut Sanchez this season by trading for Tebow. “I don’t necessarily believe that,” Ryan said.
So, was the Tebow trade a mistake? “People can speculate anything they want,” Ryan said.
But the reality is impossible to ignore. Tebow’s presence had an adverse effect on Sanchez, who didn’t help his cause by playing poorly. The quarterback mess ultimately cost the Jets a chance at the postseason.
Ryan didn’t get into specifics about his job security, but made it clear that he’s responsible for the final product, which wasn’t good enough for the second consecutive season. “The end result is we’re 6-8 and I know I’m accountable for that,” Ryan said.