Mark Sanchez to start finale vs. Bills

Updated: December 27, 2012, 7:59 PM ET
By Rich Cimini | ESPNNewYork.com

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Greg McElroy is out, Mark Sanchez is back in and Tim Tebow is stewing. Again.

The New York Jets' quarterback merry-go-round started spinning again Thursday morning, when coach Rex Ryan announced McElroy was being evaluated for a possible concussion and wouldn't play Sunday against the Buffalo Bills in the season finale.

Bypassing Tebow for the second time in 10 days, Ryan said Sanchez will start -- yet another blow to Tebow, who has complained openly about his lack of opportunities this season.

"Obviously, Tim isn't happy with it, as you'd expect," Ryan said.

This was a surreal development even by Jets standards. Ryan opened his late-morning news conference by saying, "You're not going to believe this one ..."

Ryan said he was "stunned" when McElroy, with a towel wrapped around his head, walked into his office at 9:30 a.m. accompanied by trainer John Mellody.

McElroy suffered a head injury in Sunday's loss to the San Diego Chargers, who sacked him 11 times. The former third-stringer, coming off his first NFL start, didn't disclose any concussion-related symptoms after the game, according to Ryan.

On Thursday morning, McElroy developed a severe headache while lifting weights, according to Ryan. He approached the trainer, who brought him to Ryan's office to break the news.

"He wasn't exactly truthful with our training staff," Ryan said of McElroy.

Ryan ruled him out before receiving an official diagnosis.

"There's no way. I'm not going to play him," the coach said. "I don't care what the tests say. I'm going to err on the side of caution."

Tim Tebow and Mark Sanchez
Debby Wong/USA TODAY SportsWith Greg McElroy out, Jets coach Rex Ryan announced Mark Sanchez will start the season finale against the Bills, a decision that did not sit well with Tim Tebow.

Ryan's reasoning for starting Sanchez ahead of Tebow seemed thin. He said he chose Sanchez because of the abbreviated prep time and because of his past success against the Bills.

Sanchez beat the Bills by throwing three touchdown passes, but that was in Week 1.

Only two weeks ago, Sanchez -- his confidence seemingly shattered -- threw four interceptions in a Monday night loss to the Tennessee Titans, prompting Ryan to bench his longtime starter in favor of McElroy.

"Any competitor would be excited about getting another opportunity," Ryan said of Sanchez, whose future with the team is in doubt.

Ryan said he broke the news to Sanchez and Tebow in the hallway outside the quarterback meeting room. McElroy wasn't in the meeting, so they knew something was up.

Tebow, who engaged in a heated discussion with Ryan last Tuesday upon learning he had been passed over, probably is counting the days until he can leave the Jets. The Jets are planning to part ways with him, according to sources. Tebow has all but admitted he wants to play elsewhere in 2013.

This time, Tebow reverted to Tebow-speak, closely guarding his true feelings.

"Obviously, I'm a competitor and I want to play, but I understand his decision and I let him know I'll do whatever I can to help the team," he said.

Over and over, the Jets have shown absolutely no faith in Tebow's ability as a conventional quarterback even though he was listed as the No. 2 for 13 games. They removed him from the Wildcat package last week when Tebow complained about the role and told Ryan he didn't want to be a situational player, as reported by ESPNNewYork.com. With every non-endorsement of Tebow, the Jets fuel criticism, as people wonder why they traded for him in the first place.

"I'm sure there's a lot of frustration there, and I completely understand," said Ryan, who again refused to shoot down the story of Tebow asking out.

Asked if he has become numb to the perceived slights, Tebow smiled.

"No, I'm not numb," he said. "I still have emotions and feelings, so I'm not numb at all."

Ryan defended the decision to start Sanchez.

"When you look at the circumstances we're in, I think without question, this is the right decision," he said.

The Jets probably would've had to change the game plan to suit Tebow's unconventional, run-first style, but Ryan insisted that had no bearing on his decision. He refused to say who would've received the nod if McElroy's condition had been discovered after the game.

"I'd rather not speculate," Ryan said.

Since being benched, Sanchez has remained steadfast in his belief that he'd get another chance as a starter in the NFL. He had no idea it would come this quickly.

"Things totally flipped," he said. "It's a good example of how the league works. You're one play away as a backup, so you have to be ready."

Some players didn't find out he had been scratched until Sanchez showed up in the huddle at practice on Thursday.

Rich Cimini

ESPN New York Jets reporter

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