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Thursday, November 15, 2012
Jets' problem is Sanchez, not Tebow

By Johnette Howard

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- The Jets don't have a Tim Tebow problem as much as they have a Mark Sanchez problem. That's their quarterback problem. Once you realize that, all the tittering and rubbernecking at the bigger wreck the Jets have become the past two days because of some anonymous in-house sources who ripped Tebow is just obfuscatory noise. It ignores what's really important. Like how a Jets offense run by Sanchez didn't muster a point last week against Seattle despite having two weeks to prepare.

The Tim Tebow talk is just a smoke screen. The Jets are 3-6 because of Mark Sanchez.

Tebow's presence has been a long-running sideshow that is now muddying the waters to the point Jets owner Woody Johnson decided to make an appearance Thursday at practice to speak to reporters.

Johnson irritably challenged the "phony story" he brought Tebow here to juice the box office.

He said he was "upset" at the team's 3-6 record because "I don't like to lose games."

At one point, he even seemed to be trying to put the Tebow genie back in the bottle when he claimed his involvement with Tebow is "no different than with any other player."

But it's far too late for that. It's not true. And anyway, it's again missing the point.

The dozen or so unnamed sources in the Jets organization who ripped Tebow in a New York Daily News story Wednesday can make Tebow some convenient straw man to dig their bayonets into -- either out of weariness, boredom or jealousy at having to answer the same questions over and over because of Tebow's celebrity and lack of playing time. But the goring Tebow took wasn't merely unfair. It was more proof of the typically clouded judgment that continues to make this a losing organization.

The biggest reason this Jets team is 3-6 is the Jets have a lousy offense that struggles to score, lacks imagination and trots out a starting quarterback named Sanchez who has thrown four interceptions in the red zone, completed only 52 percent of his passes overall and still makes the same mistakes he did in his rookie year. Sanchez also misses having a reliable running attack that might cover up the team's deficiencies at wide receiver, and he has sometimes been dragged down by an underperforming offensive line that can't even say it is living on its reputation anymore.

So rather than gratuitously slagging Tebow about something that has been obvious for weeks -- the Jets' coaches don't trust him with a big offensive role, and they most likely never will -- the Jets should be more focused on what everyone has been noticing about the rest of the team.

Just a few weeks ago the Dolphins insulted the Jets by saying they knew the Jets would "lay down" if they got behind. Other opposing players have said part of their game plan revolves around waiting for Sanchez to make mistakes.

The Jets should be more worried about the fact that after last Sunday's embarrassment in Seattle, they're no lock to beat the Rams in St. Louis this weekend, either. And as bad as the past few days have been for Tebow, Sanchez and Jets offensive coordinator Tony Sparano are likely to experience an even worse Hell Week paddling of their own if the Jets' offense sputters again Sunday compared to Rams quarterback Sam Bradford and former Jets coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, last season's scapegoat when the team imploded late.

Tebow already looked like a goner with the Jets even before his teammates anonymously ripped him.

"But here's the thing -- why is anyone in this locker room even talking about any of this other stuff, or about Tim, when we're 3-6?" Jets veteran linebacker Bryan Thomas asked Thursday with exasperation in his voice.

Thomas, the longest-tenured Jet at 10 seasons, has been doing a slow burn since Sunday's thumping in Seattle. He has liberally used the same word -- "disgusting" -- to describe both the Jets' performance in that loss and, now, how Tebow was maligned.

"I felt sorry for him, I really did, because he's a good guy and he didn't deserve that, he didn't make us 3-6 -- it's been the rest of us," Thomas said. "But the other thing I think is, 'This is the biggest story?' Why are we as the Jets even talking about that? Why? Why are guys even concerned with that? We're 3-6! We're still making the sort of mental errors and technique mistakes we've been making since the first few weeks of the season. That's not his fault. ... Our only concern as Jets should be focused on getting back in the damn win column.

"Excuse my language."

Johnson occasionally got terse during his 10-minute talk with reporters -- never more so than when he jumped on a question about whether he personally wanted to obtain Tebow to sell personal seat licenses, which remain available three years into the Jets' move to MetLife Stadium.

Johnson said, "This, I really want to clear up.

"You guys have been accusing me, there's this phony story about me being more concerned with PSLs or cash or something else. Listen, my job 1, 2, 3 is to win games. That's why I got into football to begin with. It's to win games. ... It's not to sell PSLs or to sell hot dogs. No. It's to win games."

Johnson was not willing to admit he has a Sanchez problem, either.

Johnson was asked if he still believes Sanchez is the quarterback to lead the team, and he said, "Mark is a player on the team. And we're going to evaluate him as we do the other players. He'll be evaluated just like anybody else."

Right. But reminded now that he was adamant in the offseason Sanchez was his starter, Johnson said, "He is the starter. I'll address that. He's the starter."

OK. Let's try this again: Do you still feel he is a franchise quarterback?

"He is our franchise quarterback -- I don't 'feel' that way, that's what he is. You know?" Johnson answered.

No, we don't know.

The worse Sanchez plays, the more Sanchez looks like the franchise's quarterback by default. Not "the" franchise. And it's important to be clear about this: Some of the ripping of Tebow was not a vote of confidence for Sanchez as much as a concession to that dreary reality that Sanchez remains the franchise's starting quarterback only because nobody currently on the roster is better.

The Jets are just 11-14 since Sanchez quarterbacked them to back-to-back AFC title games. This season, if you throw out their wins over Buffalo and Indy, they've scored only six touchdowns in their other seven games.

Sanchez has regressed.

That's a Sanchez problem.

That's the real Jets quarterback problem.

Not the background noise about how many verbal hits their celebrity backup quarterback attracts.