FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Mark Sanchez was once the face of the franchise, the quarterback expected to lead the New York Jets to a long-awaited Super Bowl appearance.
There were lofty comparisons to Joe Namath just two years ago. Now, Sanchez might not even be the starter anymore.
Rex Ryan is in quite the quarterback quandary, undecided on whether it will be Sanchez, Greg McElroy or Tim Tebow under center Sunday at Jacksonville.
“Well, I think right now,” Ryan said Monday, “I definitely need a little more time to make that decision.”
Not only do the Jets have a quarterback controversy, but they have one that involves three players who all make for intriguing options.
“I’m comfortable and confident with all three quarterbacks,” Ryan said. “I think all three guys have, now, proven they can win in this league.”
While it was widely thought Tebow would be the guy to eventually take Sanchez’s job, McElroy made a strong case for himself in leading the Jets (5-7) to a 7-6 win over the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday.
“That’s a decision above my pay grade,” defensive end Mike DeVito said with a laugh when asked who he thinks should start. “I trust all three of those guys.”
Sanchez was pulled Sunday with 4:48 left in the third quarter, and McElroy came in and led the Jets to the only touchdown of the game on his first NFL drive. Fans chanted “Mc-El-Roy!” throughout the game and booed Sanchez loudly nearly each time he stepped on or off the field, particularly after each of his three interceptions.
Sanchez went a miserable 10 of 21 for 97 yards before taking a spot on the sideline. McElroy’s numbers were hardly eye-popping — 5 of 7 for 29 yards — but the fact he energized the team and the crowd meant a lot for a squad still harboring playoff hopes.
“It was a good experience for me,” McElroy said on a conference call. “There’s been no indication, no information at this point (on who’ll start).”
Ryan wants to consult his coaching staff to have “an open discussion” and review the game film before making a decision, which he expects to have before practice Wednesday.
Tebow’s health will also likely play a role after he was inactive Sunday while recovering from two broken ribs. He is listed as the team’s No. 2 quarterback on the depth chart and was medically cleared to play against the Cardinals, but Ryan decided against making Tebow active because he felt he’s “not near 100 percent.”
Tebow had additional X-rays on his ribs Sunday to see how they’re healing and was still awaiting the results.
“Could I have forced it and went out there and played?” Tebow said on a conference call. “I think I could have managed it.”
He spoke to Ryan about being active for the game, but wasn’t successful in talking the coach into playing him — as he did on Thanksgiving night. Tebow ended up not playing against New England while McElroy was inactive, a decision Ryan later regretted.
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. After being the No. 2 quarterback on the depth chart, he could see the No. 3 leapfrog over him and start for the Jets.
“I’m not into hypotheticals,” Tebow said. “I’m just trying to get healthy right now.”
Now comes the biggest call of Ryan’s head coaching career: Does he give Sanchez one more shot at saving his job? Does he let McElroy show the team what he can do for a whole game? Or, does he go with Tebow, provided he’s healthy enough, in front of the quarterback’s hometown Jaguars?
“There are a lot of tough decisions you make as a coach,” Ryan said. “A lot of times, it’s easier when you put the three priorities (ahead of everything): the team, the team, the team. You’ve got to take away personal feelings and whatever, because it’s bigger than me or this person or that person.”