A mere four months, not four epochs, have passed since Mark Sanchez had his finest game of the season, throwing three touchdown passes in a 48-28 victory against Buffalo that left the entire Jets organization giddy.
Sanchez has lost a lot since — eight starts, his starting job and pretty much all the faith the Jets had in him — but the Sept. 9 season opener quickly became relevant again at 9:30 a.m. Thursday, when Greg McElroy walked into Rex Ryan’s office with a towel wrapped around his head.
McElroy, the former third-string quarterback who was sacked 11 times in his first N.F.L. start, a 27-17 loss Sunday to San Diego, was lifting weights Thursday, Ryan said, when he began experiencing headaches. And that is how Sanchez got his job back.
“Come to find out that Greg wasn’t exactly truthful with our training staff after the game,” Ryan said.
McElroy was ordered to have an evaluation for a concussion. Ryan did not need to know the results to know that he would not play McElroy in Sunday’s finale at Buffalo.
Then Ryan called Sanchez and Tim Tebow, the other quarterback, into the hallway and informed them that Sanchez would start. The Jets had two days to prepare for the game — “a short window,” Ryan said — and he felt better with Sanchez.
“Mark has had success earlier in the season against Buffalo,” Ryan said. “He’s very familiar with them, and that’s the reason I’m going with Mark.”
He added, “Obviously, Tim’s not happy with that,” although Ryan said that his decision did not mean Tebow would not play. Tebow said later, smiling, that he would do whatever Ryan asked him to do Sunday.
Only 24 hours earlier, Tebow denied reports that he had asked out of running plays from the Wildcat formation against San Diego, in part, because he had been upset that Ryan had named McElroy, not Tebow, as the starting quarterback.
“I understood his position, and I respect it, and I respect him as a coach, and we still got a great relationship,” Tebow said Thursday. “I’m looking forward to doing whatever I can to help the team beat the Buffalo Bills.”
Tony Sparano, the beleaguered first-year offensive coordinator, described Ryan’s latest quarterback change as “another bump in the road,” adding, deadpan, “It’s something we’ve become a little accustomed to dealing with.”
But Sparano laughed when he was asked what he thought immediately after Ryan told him he was making a move from McElroy back to Sanchez. He replied: “I was pretty silent. Hard to believe, I know.”
The Jets (6-9) and the Bills (5-10) have been eliminated from playoff contention, and there is a 60 percent chance of snow Sunday in Orchard Park, N.Y. When they last met, it was sunny and 74 degrees at MetLife Stadium, and both teams were full of hope.
Sanchez has 17 interceptions and 7 fumbles this season and was reduced to charting plays run by McElroy during the Jets’ loss to San Diego. He was also unsure that the September game against Buffalo would help all that much.
“It’s two totally different teams,” Sanchez said, “and it’s been months apart.”
He also said he felt bad for McElroy, but then he said situations like these were why teams have a backup quarterback — which he became last week. He said he was excited to play and wanted to make the most of his chance, even though it might not mean much. Ryan said Sanchez would be evaluated on the entire season, not just one game.
“I guess I didn’t expect it,” Sanchez said of his latest chance to play. “I didn’t come in today thinking he had a concussion.”
Sparano said Ryan carried through on his promise to talk to the Jets after practice about disclosing injuries. Ryan said that he admired McElroy’s courage and determination to keep his job but that McElroy needed to be more forthcoming.
Ryan said, “I just feel fortunate that something like this showed up without him going out there and putting himself in harm’s way.”
As Ryan stepped off the podium after a 20-minute news conference, he was asked if this had been the strangest season of his coaching career.
He drew laughter when he said: “I would say that’s pretty accurate. And we’ve had some strange ones.”