It's been less than a year since the Jets extended Mark Sanchez for $20.5 million through 2013. On Sunday, coach Rex Ryan opted to bench his starter, but not for Tim Tebow, who was sidelined with a rib injury. Ryan called on Greg McElroy, whose NFL debut gave the Jets a breath of a chance for a wild-card berth, while creating yet another quarterback controversy.
The Jets were floundering in the third quarter, thanks in part to Sanchez's three interceptions, when Ryan made the move to McElroy, who was better known for calling out "selfish individuals" in the Jets locker room on a Birmingham radio station in January.
Ryan likely heard Jets fans chanting for McElroy as early as the second quarter. The Jets' seventh-round pick in the 2011 draft who won a national championship at Alabama and a state championship in high school, definitely picked up on the energy at MetLife Stadium when he began warming up.
“It’s tough to kind of gauge the energy, obviously,” McElroy cracked. “I didn’t have a decibel meter.”
After Sanchez's 11th incompletion in 21 attempts, Ryan had seen enough.
“It’s just something I sensed,” Ryan said. “When you’re around this game long enough, you get that feeling that, You know what? I’ve seen this long enough, and it’s time to make that change..."
Getting the hook surprised Sanchez, who sought out Ryan on the sideline, according to Ben Shpigel of the New York Times.
...after Sanchez’s final pass flopped incomplete, after he unsnapped his chin strap and dropped his shoulders, he met the offensive coordinator Tony Sparano, who informed him of the change. Sanchez went over to Ryan because, Sanchez said, “I just wanted to hear it from the head coach.”
“I didn’t expect it, but it doesn’t matter,” Sanchez said.
Being benched for the first time in three seasons may have still been on Sanchez's mind when McElroy completed a 10-play drive by tossing a 1-yard touchdown pass to Jeff Cumberland for the go-ahead score on the first play of the fourth quarter. While Jets teammates celebrated McElroy's first career NFL touchdown pass, Sanchez kept his head buried in a clipboard, appearing to chart the play.
McElroy's first outing wasn't limited to his first TD pass. He played well with the lead, completing a key third-down pass to Jeremy Kerley that let the Jets extend the game's final drive and run out the clock for the 7-6 win.
Will Sanchez retain his starting role next week, or will McElroy make his first NFL start? Will the Jets consider starting Tim Tebow -- if he's healthy enough -- in his hometown of Jacksonville? Ryan wasn't making any declarations or promises on Sunday.
“We’ll evaluate our situation as the week goes on,” Ryan said.