- Rich Cimini, ESPN Staff Writer
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The Jets rallied to beat the Cardinals 7-6 on Sunday at MetLife Stadium, but they created a quarterback controversy -- and, surprise, it doesn't involve Tim Tebow. A struggling Mark Sanchez was benched for the first time in his career, and Greg McElroy -- in his NFL debut -- sparked the team and the crowd. He led the game's only touchdown drive.
What it means: The Jets (5-7) kept their faint playoff hopes alive with an ugly win, but the larger issue is the quarterback situation. This was a bombshell decision by Rex Ryan, and it will have long-term ramifications. Remember, Sanchez is owed $8.25 million in guarantees for 2013, so his return is highly likely. In the short term, who starts next week? It's a multiple-choice question for Ryan.
The Decision: Ryan was justified to pull Sanchez (10-for-21, 97 yards) with 4:48 remaining in the third quarter. In 10 possessions, Sanchez threw three interceptions and failed to put any points on the board. The first two interceptions, made by former Jets safety Kerry Rhodes, were bad decisions and horrible throws. Patrick Peterson made a terrific play on the third interception, a deep ball to Chaz Schilens. The crowd was chanting for McElroy. Ryan had been fiercely loyal to Sanchez, but something had to be done.
He-e-e-e-re's Greg: McElroy was active for the first time because Tebow (fractured ribs) didn't dress. McElroy, a former seventh-round pick from Alabama, didn't do anything spectacular, but he didn't make any turnovers, he managed the game and he led a 69-yard drive for the go-ahead score. He hit Jeff Cumberland for a 1-yard scoring pass, a well-executed bootleg on play-action. The kid is smart and has moxie, if not a rifle arm.
Conspiracy theory: That Tebow sat one week after dressing with the same injury will fuel speculation that the Jets did it to move McElroy up the depth chart without demoting Tebow. Clearly, Ryan doesn't see Tebow as the answer at quarterback. Maybe this was his way of getting McElroy one step closer to the starting job.
Regards to Hollywood: Ryan's worst nightmare played out before his eyes. Rhodes, whom Ryan called a "selfish-ass" player with a Hollywood attitude, made two interceptions -- both in the first quarter. Rhodes also forced a fumble, setting up a field goal by another ex-Jet, Jay Feely. The Jets traded Rhodes before the 2010 season, a deal that looks terrible now. GM Mike Tannenbaum used the two draft picks acquired from the Cards to select Joe McKnight and McElroy. Interesting, huh?
Fooled again: The once-vaunted special-teams unit continues to embarrass itself on a weekly basis. This time, the Jets got suckered on a fake punt, setting up a field goal. It was a gutsy call by the Cards -- fourth-and-7 from their own 25 with 1:11 left in the first half -- but it appeared to be an audible based on the "overload" look on the Jets' punt-rushing front. Rashad Johnson took a direct snap and raced 40 yards.
Great defense: Facing overmatched rookie Ryan Lindley (10-for-31, 72 yards), the Jets' defense pitched a near-perfect game. They held the Cards to 0-for-15 on third down. Lindley was hopeless, often missing receivers by several yards.
Tebow takes a seat: As expected, Tebow was inactive. He was medically cleared, sources said, but he sat based on a coach's decision.
What's ahead: The Jets hit the road to face the struggling Jaguars (2-10). The storyline will be Tebow's return to his hometown, but it could feature a new starting quarterback for the Jets.