The Jets finally benched quarterback Mark Sanchez and came back to win a game led by a young, unproven backup quarterback with a limited skill set and a raucous MetLife Stadium crowd behind him. But it wasn't Tim Tebow, it was Greg McElroy.
Sanchez slogged his way through two and a half quarters on Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals, throwing three first half picks, unable to lead to the Jets to a single point. With Tebow inactivated because of cracked ribs, head coach Rex Ryan went to McElroy, the second-year guy out of Alabama who, like Tebow, owns an NCAA National Championship. He didn't light up the world, throwing for 29 yards and completing five of seven passes, but the Jets were suddenly invigorated when he entered the game. Running backs Bilal Powell and Shonn Greene hot the holes harder, the offensive line blocked better, and Stephen Hill - who has dropped numerous perfect throws from Sanchez this year - made an incredibly difficult catch after the QB switch. Whatever McElroy was doing out there worked, and the kid had his moment when he hit a wide open Jeff Cumberland in the end zone for the only touchdown of the game.
The Jets won a game that was as ugly a display of modern football all you'll ever see, but they'll take it to keep their dire playoff hopes alive. Now as they prepare to visit Jacksonville, the quarterback controversy that everyone wanted to see is finally upon us; it's just not between who we all thought it would be.
The Jets' defense played excellent. It is worth noting that Sanchez wasn't the worst quarterback on the field yesterday, three picks notwithstanding, as Ryan Lindley put on one of the worst performances an NFL quarterback ever has. He went 10-of-31 for 79 yards and one interception, and the numbers honestly don't tell the tale of how truly awful he was. give credit to the Jets defense for a lot of yesterday's happenings; there was some pressure on Lindley and the run defense was stellar. But if we're being fair, it's almost not a true judge of where the Jets' defense is. Half of the time you had no idea where Lindley was even throwing the ball. He was missing receivers by 15 yards. He had a wide-open Larry Fitzgerald in the flat during the fourth quarter in the red zone and missed him by a mile, where a completion may give the Cards a lead. With more bad quarterbacks on the schedule in the next few weeks, let's hope the Jets' defense can build on a great performance and replicate it. With their offense's recent play regardless of the signal caller, they'll have to if the Jets want to win.
The QB switch seemed to wake Tony Sparano up as well. The Jets' offensive coordinator went to a conservative approach when McElroy entered, going run heavy and rolling McElroy out and moving the pocket when going to the air. I understand that Sanchez is fourth year pro at this point, but it's interesting that the Jets didn't this approach with Sanchez this year amidst his struggles. Sanchez is a good play action QB, good on the move, better when things are simpler. That's what they did with McElroy, understandably, and the Jets' offense moved the ball. The play action, tight end slip on the goal line was something the Jets never did with Sanchez this season in their many goal line opportunities. It's one of the easiest, most sure-fire calls in the NFL, and yet it took McElroy's entrance in the game for Sparano to call it. Very odd, but we'll take it.
If there is a more clear indictment of Tim Tebow than this, please show it to me. Yes, Sanchez was horrific on Sunday, but he's had plenty of similar performances this season - spurts against the 49ers and Miami Dolphins come to mind - and only with Tebow inactive and McElroy as the backup did Rex Ryan finally pull Sanchez and go to the backup. Maybe it was just coincidence, but based on this season it's also plausible to think that if Tebow were active and McElroy not on Sunday that Sanchez would have continued and finished the game. It's now crystal clear that Ryan doesn't believe the Jets can win with Tebow at quarterback. Maybe some other coaches in the league think they can, but just remember that the Jets and Jaguars were the only teams in the league that showed any interest in him, and Jacksonville wouldn't pull the trigger even though he'd fill their empty stadium in the state where he's a hero. If the Jets aren't going to go to him as a quarterback, who else in the NFL is?
Let's get something straight, right off the bat. Quarterback controversies aren't a good thing. When it involves the guy you traded up to draft fifth overall just four years ago, the guy who brought you went to two AFC Title games with, who you owe a boatload of money to next season, they're especially not good. It's really incredible to think that less than two calendar years ago, Mark Sanchez led the Jets to their franchise's biggest win since Super Bowl III, going into Foxboro and outplaying Tom Brady, throwing three touchdowns in the Divisional Round. A lot of people have always said that the Jets won in 2009 and 2010 in spite of their young quarterback, and maybe that's true, but they certainly didn't beat the Colts and Patriots in the 2010 playoffs in spite of him. He was a big part of those wins, and those wins weren't very long ago. How the hell did we get here?
There are an incredible amount of things that have happened with this franchise since then that have contributed to the Jets' falling from elite-level status, and those things have affected Sanchez, no question. The breaking down of the once-great offensive line, the lack of skill at running back, the inexperience at wide reciever, the Tebow acquisition, even a deteriorating defense are all things that have hurt Sanchez and the Jets as a whole. But Sanchez has had his chances to turn things around, to play better, to just simply play well and he hasn't. He has nobody to blame for himself for getting pulled, and if this is the end of his Jets' career and his career as a starter in the NFL, he only has to look in the mirror for an explanation. He just simply hasn't been good enough, but it's just some kind of strange that it's gotten to this point so quickly.
The Jets have no other choice than to start McElroy on Sunday at Jacksonville. If he's horrible, then you can pull him for Sanchez, but you can't go the other way with this. See what you have with McElroy for the rest of the season, and go from there.
Chances are, Sunday's benching of Sanchez didn't mark the beginning of the Greg McElroy Era. It just marked the time the Jets realized they were back to square one at quarterback, which is the place you never want to be in the NFL.