New York Jets coach Rex Ryan was finally bold enough to do something about the woeful production he was getting out of the quarterback position that has been dragging his team down all season, when he benched Mark Sanchez in Sunday's ugly 7-6 victory over the Arizona Cardinals. Greg McElroy made his NFL debut, running onto the field to wild cheers from the fans, and saved the day for the Jets by driving his team downfield for the only touchdown of the game. He went 5-for-7, threw for 29 yards and tossed his first career touchdown pass, to Jeff Cumberland. He didn't do anything spectacular, but he didn't throw an interception, fumble or run into an offensive lineman's butt, so that's an improvement right there for the Jets. Here's a quick look at a few other Jet quarterbacks' debuts.
With all the hoopla that followed Joe Namath as he entered professional football in 1965, it's somewhat of a surprise that he didn't start right away for the Jets. Second-year quarterback Mike Taliaferro started the opener in '65, a 27-21 loss to the Houston Oilers (his stats that day: 4-for-21, 58 yards, one touchdown, one interception). In Week 2, on Sept. 18, at Shea Stadium, Taliaferro started again, against the Kansas City Chiefs, but after only completing a Sanchez-like four of 12 passes for 24 yards, Namath relieved him in the second quarter. The Chiefs led 14-3 in the fourth quarter, when Namath hit Don Maynard on a quick out pattern, and the Jet receiver turned the corner and sprinted into the end zone, for a 37-yard touchdown, the first of Namath's career. Broadway Joe finished the game going 11-for-23, throwing for 121 yards, with one touchdown and no interceptions in the 14-10 loss. Namath started the next week, a loss to the Buffalo Bills, and won his first game in Week 7, a 45-10 win over the Denver Broncos. He and Taliaferro split time in that game, too. Namath made the Pro Bowl and won the Rookie of the Year, as he tossed 18 touchdown passes, with 15 interceptions, threw for 2,220 yards, had a 48.2 completion percentage and a passer rating of 68.7.
Namath's successor, Richard Todd, debuted on opening day, Sept. 12, 1976, which was also Lou Holtz's first game as Jets coach. Namath started, against the Cleveland Browns, with Todd entering the game here and there, as Holtz saw fit. The Jets jumped out to a 10-0 lead on a Pat Leahy 41-yard field goal and a Steve Davis 20-yard rushing touchdown (he and Ed Marinaro led the Jets in rushing that day with 36 yards each), but the Browns scored the next 31 points. In the fourth quarter Todd broke Cleveland's scoring streak by rushing for an eight-yard touchdown. The Browns went on to win, 38-17, with Todd going 4-for-5, throwing for 25 yards, with an interception and no touchdown passes (Namath went 15-for-31, 137 yards and an interception). Todd started six games in that disastrous season, throwing only three touchdowns all year, with 12 interceptions, threw for 870 yards, with a 40.1 completion percentage and had a 33.2 quarterback rating. His first win came in Week 5, when he and Namath beat the Bills, 17-14.
Ken O'Brien, taken in the vaunted draft class of 1983, was eased into his professional career. He didn't play at all in '83, and he made two brief appearances the following season (throwing and completing one nine-yard pass) before seeing his first real action on Oct. 28, in a 30-20 loss to the New England Patriots at Sullivan Stadium. O'Brien completed six of nine passes, for 81 yards, and threw his first NFL touchdown pass, a seven-yard completion to Rocky Klever. His first start came on Nov. 18 that year, a 31-20 loss to the Oilers in Week 12. O'Brien went 19-for-36, threw for 226 yards, with one interception and no touchdowns. He threw for 1,402 yards in that first season, tossed six touchdown passes, with seven interceptions, completed 57.1% of his passes and had a passer rating of 74.
Chad Pennington got into one game in his first season, on Dec. 10, 2000, a 31-7 blowout loss to the Oakland Raiders. Pennington completed two of five passes, threw for 67 yards and tossed his first NFL touchdown pass that day, a five-yard completion to Wayne Chrebet, for the Jets' only points. Vinny Testaverde and Ray Lucas also played quarterback in that game. In 2001, Pennington got into two games (completing 10 of 20 passes, with one touchdown), and he finally started in his third season, on Oct. 6, 2002, a 29-25 loss to the Chiefs. He threw two touchdown passes and one interception, and was characteristically efficient, going 22-for-29, with 237 passing yards.
The only quarterback on this list to start on opening day of his rookie season was Mark Sanchez. He and the Jets defeated the Houston Texans, 24-7, at Reliant Stadium, in Rex Ryan's Jets coaching debut. Sanchez completed 18 of 31 passes, threw for 272 yards, with one touchdown and an interception. His first NFL touchdown was a 30-yard completion to Chansi Stuckey. Sanchez's rookie-season stats: 12 touchdowns, 20 interceptions, 2,444 yards, a 53.8 completion percentage and a 63 passer rating. He, of course, led the Jets to two playoff wins that year, over the Cincinnati Bengals and San Diego Chargers, before falling to the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC Championship Game. That seems like it happened decades ago, though, as he's lately been given the Richard Todd treatment by Jet fans.