FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Mark Sanchez spent a few days after his miserable performance wondering what was next.
The New York Jets quarterback had been benched, his coach tired of his mistakes, and there was no guarantee Rex Ryan would give him his job back anytime soon.
“I knew at some point before I died, I’d start at quarterback again,” Sanchez said Wednesday. “I’m glad it’s this week.”
Ryan gathered his three quarterbacks Wednesday morning and told them he made up his mind: He’s sticking with Sanchez.
For this week, at least.
Ryan weighed his options after pulling Sanchez for Greg McElroy last Sunday against Arizona, talking to many people within the organization before settling on his quarterback.
“I have to get this decision right,” Ryan said, “and I believe I have.”
So it will be Sanchez and not McElroy or Tim Tebow on Sunday when the Jets take on the Jaguars in Jacksonville.
“I’m pleased with coach’s decision,” Sanchez said. “Now it’s my job to go make him right.”
Sanchez was removed late in the third quarter against Arizona, and McElroy came in and led the Jets to the only touchdown of the game on his first NFL drive, helping New York to a 7-6 victory. Sanchez was 10 of 21 for 97 and three interceptions, while McElroy was 5 of 7 for 29 yards and the score, and appeared to spark the team.
Including, the Jets hope, Sanchez.
“When I looked at everything, the biggest thing I kept coming back to is, who gives us the best opportunity to win?” Ryan said. “When I kept coming back to that, I believe the correct answer was Mark Sanchez.”
It was perhaps the biggest call in Ryan’s nearly four years as coach, considering the sensitivity of the situation and the possible ramifications. He acknowledged there were differing opinions among those he spoke to, but said he received no pressure from owner Woody Johnson and added that Johnson was “absolutely” OK with the decision.
“From the day Mr. Johnson hired me,” Ryan said, “he said it’s 100 percent my decision who plays.”
Sanchez, whose confidence was shaken with Sunday’s performance, gets a chance to bounce back from the first benching of his NFL career and to regain the trust of his teammates. He has struggled recently, with two touchdowns and five interceptions in his last four games.
“It was probably the worst and best experience of my life,” Sanchez said. “Hopefully, you learn from it and move on and never look back. It was definitely was the worst, but it could turn around and be one of the best things that’s ever happened.”
He said he had never been benched, except for maybe on his fifth-grade basketball team.
“I think (Ryan) was, more or less, sending a message and it’s well-received,” Sanchez said. “I know. I got it.”
He’ll likely be on a short leash against Jacksonville — with Tebow the No. 2 if healthy, and McElroy also ready to go — but Ryan acknowledged it might not be a quick hook if he struggles. Ryan also referenced the team’s color-coded system which determined how much risk Sanchez can take with each pass, saying the quarterback is now back in the “red light” area — meaning he must be extremely cautious.
“If he throws one interception, it doesn’t mean he’s going to get benched, necessarily,” Ryan said.
It’s still uncertain if Tebow will be active against his hometown Jaguars while he recovers from two broken ribs. Despite being medically cleared by team doctors to play, Ryan chose to keep him active but not play against New England on Thanksgiving night, and then made him inactive against Arizona.
If Ryan went with McElroy, a seventh-round pick in 2011 out of Alabama, it would have been a clear indication the franchise is moving on from Sanchez.
“I’m just disappointed because I let a lot of people down,” Sanchez said. “You let a lot of teammates down when you play like that. That never feels good. It just doesn’t, not the way I prepare, not with the skill set I’ve been blessed to have.”
Money might have played a role in the decision, too, with Sanchez owed $8.25 million next year in guarantees. But Ryan adamantly denied that factored into things.
“Absolutely zero,” he said without hesitating.
Still, the Jets are likely stuck with Sanchez and his contract, so they need to see if he can rebound after the lowest point of his career.
“I believe in Mark,” Ryan said.
It didn’t appear Tebow was much of a factor in Ryan’s decision. Ryan said all three quarterbacks would be in the mix, but didn’t speculate whether he would have pulled Sanchez in favor of Tebow last Sunday if he were active.
“I’m not too worried about it,” Tebow said. “Just trying to get better and trying to heal up.”
Tebow was expected to have a major role in the offense, but instead has been a spare part averaging about seven offensive snaps per game. He has been listed as the No. 2 quarterback on the depth chart, but if the Jets turned to McElroy, it would have meant the No. 3 guy leapfrogged Tebow to start for the Jets.
McElroy said he has had a “normal” week so far, taking his usual number of snaps along with practicing with the scout team.
“You’re not guaranteed anything, not at all,” McElroy said. “You do your best to make the most of your opportunity and do your best to help the team.”
The fact the next two games are on the road should also help Sanchez. He was booed mercilessly by the MetLife Stadium crowd last Sunday, particularly after each interception, and chants for McElroy were heard throughout the game. McElroy was cheered as he warmed up late in the third quarter, and there was growing sentiment among some fans and media that he earned a start after lifting the team.
“This is my opinion,” Ryan said, “and I believe that sometimes you don’t need to sit a guy for ‘X’ amount of games.”
Now, Ryan has sent the message to Sanchez: perform or else. And Sanchez gets another shot to save his job this season — and his status as the Jets’ franchise quarterback.
“This kind of thing affects people’s lives and careers,” Sanchez said. “It’s not just, ‘Oh, man. Bummer.’ It’s not like that. This is serious.”