- Rich Cimini, ESPN Staff Writer
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FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- After mulling the most important decision of his New York Jets head-coaching career, Rex Ryan decided to stick with embattled starting quarterback Mark Sanchez, but he made it abundantly clear Wednesday that Sanchez is on a short leash.
In other words, he's not ready to try a "Hail McElroy" -- yet.
"He has to play better, he has to protect the ball better," said Ryan, adding that he would "absolutely" pull Sanchez if the turnovers continue.
Backup Greg McElroy, the new fan favorite after rallying the Jets to a 7-6 win Sunday over the Arizona Cardinals in his NFL debut, will remain on the bench with the injured Tim Tebow, whose status remains uncertain.
But the quarterback depth chart could change quickly.
As he explained his decision, Ryan stayed in the short term, claiming it was based on what gives them the best chance to beat the Jacksonville Jaguars -- hardly an overwhelming vote of confidence for Sanchez, who was benched Sunday for the first time in his career.
Ryan insisted that Sanchez's contract -- an $8.25 million guarantee in 2013 -- had "absolutely zero" impact on his decision. The coach admitted there was a "difference of opinion" within the organization, but he said owner Woody Johnson was on board. There was speculation that Johnson preferred McElroy.
"I wanted to get the pulse from a lot of different people," said Ryan, who broke the news to the three quarterbacks in an early-morning meeting. "At the end of the day, I was going to do what Woody Johnson hired me to do, and that's make the appropriate decisions to help this football team win."
Ryan said he believes Sanchez will play well against the Jaguars, ranked 31st in total defense. That he kept Sanchez in limbo for nearly three days, however, indicates his confidence in him has eroded.
Sanchez threw three interceptions against the Cards, increasing his turnover total to 18 -- 44 over the last two seasons, the second-highest total in the league. The Jets (5-7), still with a faint hope of making the playoffs, are ranked 31st in total offense.
One factor that works in Sanchez's favor is that the next two games are on the road. The home fans have turned on him in recent weeks.
"It was a decision I feel great about," said Ryan, hoping that Sanchez will benefit from the 1½ quarters he spent as a spectator. "I'm actually looking forward to seeing Mark play. ... Obviously, I have to get this right and I believe I have."
All three quarterbacks will address the media late Wednesday afternoon.
Ryan declined to reveal his No. 2 quarterback, saying he wants to monitor Tebow's health. He missed last week's game with fractured ribs -- a four-week-old injury. Tebow will be the No. 2 if he's "completely healthy," according to Ryan.
On Tuesday, Ryan huddled with Johnson, general manager Mike Tannenbaum and offensive coordinator Tony Sparano to discuss the quarterback situation, sources said.
Despite his struggles, Sanchez still has support within the organization, including the offensive coaching staff. Part of that is because there's little faith in Tebow, and McElroy, a former seventh-round pick, is an unknown.
Ryan has handled Sanchez with kid gloves since his rookie season of 2009, but that changed Wednesday. In the quarterbacks meeting, he told Sanchez that he no longer will tolerate reckless turnovers.
Later, speaking to the media, Ryan recalled the color-coded system they used in Sanchez's rookie year. In attempt to curb his interceptions, the coaches attached a color -- red, yellow, green -- to each play call, indicating how cautious (or aggressive) they wanted him to be.
"I guess," Ryan said, "you can say we're in red right now."
1dEric D. Williams