- Rich Cimini, ESPN Staff Writer
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New York Jets backup quarterback Tim Tebow was in such pain from two broken ribs that he threw right-handed -- his off-hand -- with a toy football in a postgame catch on the field with a young boy who attended Thursday night's game as a guest of Tebow's foundation.
And yet coach Rex Ryan was prepared to play Tebow in an emergency if starter Mark Sanchez had been injured.
A day after perhaps the most embarrassing loss of the Ryan era -- a 49-19 blowout against the New England Patriots -- the Jets' coach defended his decision to activate Tebow as the No. 2 quarterback. He also claimed the team's doctors didn't diagnose the fractures until Wednesday -- 10 days after they occurred in a Week 10 game against the Seahawks.
"He absolutely, 100 percent could've played in that game," Ryan said Friday morning.
Tebow has been a controversial player from the moment he arrived with the Jets last March, but the storyline took an ugly turn with the postgame revelation Thursday night that he was nursing broken ribs. He hasn't missed any practice time, according to Ryan, but he was listed as questionable on Wednesday's injury report.
Ryan said Tebow was cleared by team doctors to play, adding that he made a coaching decision not to let him on the field unless it became necessary.
Two questions emerged: What took so long to diagnose the injury? Why wasn't third-string quarterback Greg McElroy activated as an insurance policy?
"We knew he had sore ribs, but I don't think anybody knew the extent of it," said Ryan, adding that a CT scan Wednesday revealed the fractures. "Understand, players can play with cracked ribs. A lot will take (pain-killing) shots to numb it. I absolutely didn't want us to do that."
A few hours after Ryan's comments, the Jets were in damage control, releasing a statement that explained their version of the events.
According to the Jets, Tebow underwent X-rays (which were negative) in Seattle on Nov. 11. He played against the St. Louis Rams and continued to experience soreness.
That soreness "intensified" Tuesday morning, the team said. Tebow actually underwent an MRI and CT scan Tuesday night, at which point the fractures were revealed. Ryan was informed Tuesday night of the QB's broken ribs, and Tebow was activated after speaking with the coach and undergoing a pre-game evaluation.
The Jets didn't acknowledge the fractures until Friday morning after Tebow had revealed the diagnosis after Thursday night's game.
The QB didn't want pain-killing injections before the Patriots game, the team said.
Ryan, facing a barrage of questions about the injury, appeared to contradict himself.
"If we absolutely had to have him, I would've played him," he said. "I'm not a doctor, I'm a human. I felt for him. When the doctors are telling you he can play, when the young man is telling you he can play ... he got reps the entire week. That's why I had him active."
But Ryan left himself exposed.
If Sanchez had suffered a game-ending injury when the score still was close -- it was scoreless after the first quarter -- the Jets would've been forced to play a severely limited quarterback in a virtual must-win game.
It turned out to be moot, as the Jets committed five turnovers in the second-most lopsided loss of the Ryan era. The Patriots scored 35 points in the second quarter, including three touchdowns in a span of 52 seconds.
Tebow played three plays on offense in last Sunday's road win against the St. Louis Rams, tying a season low. Afterward, Ryan explained that they had planned a bigger role for the QB, but that they had to adjust because of the Rams' defensive looks.
On Wednesday, Tebow lobbied to play against the Patriots.
"I had to do a little bit of talking just to dress, but I just want to be there for my teammates in case they needed me in an emergency situation," said Tebow, who told Ryan he once played with a broken collarbone.
In fact, Tebow fractured a rib in last season's playoff loss to the Patriots.
Ryan bristled when pressed on his decision to active him. But he also mentioned that he told his offensive and special teams coordinators --- Tony Sparano and Mike Westhoff, respectively -- not to use Tebow. In fact, Tebow didn't play at all in his usual role as the personal protector on the punt team.
"Let's make sure we understand: He was cleared to play," said Ryan, insisting it's not uncommon for players to compete with broken ribs.
Ryan declined to speculate on whether McElroy will be active for next weekend's home game against the Arizona Cardinals. Sanchez will remain the starter, according to Ryan, who has steadfastly supported his embattled quarterback.
Tebow said he's not sure how long he'll need to heal.
"They need a little time to get better," he said.
It was yet another disappointment in an otherwise forgettable season for Tebow, whose role on the team remains undefined after 11 games. He has appeared in only 62 offensive plays, as the ballyhooed Wildcat package has gone bust.
"I didn't know what to expect, so everything has been new for me," he said. "I'm just trying to handle every situation as best I can."
1dEric D. Williams