Commentary

Tebow boosts Jets -- on the ground

How can Gang Green improve its lackluster running game? Use the big man!

Updated: September 18, 2012, 1:45 PM ET
By Stephen A. Smith | ESPNNewYork.com

Tim Tebow should have received more playing time on Sunday. Let's get that out of the way first.

If you're Rex Ryan, you make this decision when Mark Sanchez is struggling, when Tebow comes into the game and immediately sparks the club. You definitely make the switch at quarterback when it's clear the Pittsburgh Steelers' roughhouse coverage suffocated the New York Jets' wideouts all afternoon, reducing them to the wannabes most folks already think they are.

Tebow should've played more because he can run. Because the Jets -- not just Tebow -- couldn't throw. Because a spark was needed and Tebow immediately provided it, scampering for a 22-yard run with 8:39 left in the third quarter, essentially the second he touched the ball.

Except, that's the only situation in which you replace Sanchez with Tebow.

I repeat: the only situation.

Nobody should've awakened on Monday morning thinking, "Man, get Sanchez out of here so we can see Tebow, please!" I don't care that Sanchez went 10-for-27 for 138 yards and just one touchdown, or that he was close to pathetic in the game's last 43:51, going 6-for-22 for 58 yards.

When the alternative is someone who can't throw, you chalk it up to a bad afternoon. You rally the troops, get your act together and make alterations. If you're Ryan, you certainly do this, if for no other reason than to avoid coming across as a flaming hypocrite; swearing once upon a time that the chances of a quarterback controversy are about as likely as those Super Bowl victories he used to guarantee.

"Obviously, I'd like to see us throw with a higher percentage level," Ryan said of Sanchez. "But there's a lot to do with it. It's not just Sanchez."

Amen to that!

Sanchez was sensational on the game's opening drive, taking the Jets 90 yards, culminating in a hookup with Santonio Holmes for a touchdown. The reason Sanchez looked pedestrian -- to be kind -- from that point on stemmed from a multitude of other things that had little to do with him.

Pass protection was suspect. So were his wideouts, who failed to create space and get themselves open. Revisionist history has about as much of a chance of changing that as any of us has of changing the final score, which should explain why Ryan appeared a tad bit agitated at the bevy of questions about Tebow on Monday.

"We always said from Day 1, we can do it 20 times, 40 times, 10 times, two times, whatever," Ryan said, discussing the Wildcat and Tebow's use within the Jets' offense. "We determine that, OK?

"Right now, we think [Sanchez] gives us the best chance to be successful in that particular situation versus that particular opponent. Those are things we'll always look at, but I believe Tim can pass. We'll make the decision on when a guy's out there and when he's not out there."

Sorry, but that's the biggest part of the problem right now.

The Jets' decision-making on offense remains highly questionable. Primarily because Ryan comes across as someone who doesn't care about it that much, so long as his defense is playing lights-out and the final score ends in his favor.

The Jets clearly couldn't throw on Sunday. Running appeared to be their only option. And since Shonn Greene was shaken up, it made Tebow their best option -- and he still wasn't used.

The fact that Tebow has five fourth-quarter comebacks on his résumé, along with a playoff victory over those same Steelers (without Troy Polamalu and James Harrison), made Ryan's decision to limit Tebow's use to just three plays even more conspicuous. And those questions only serve to build momentum for those clamoring to see Tebow replace Sanchez, which is exactly what Ryan purportedly wants to avoid.

Basically, the Jets' head coach defeated his own purpose on Sunday, making the case for more Tebow instead of less, while compromising Sanchez in the process.

"No, it's not frustrating," Tebow told reporters after his limited play on Sunday. "I just go in when they tell me and try to do the best I can. It all depends on how the game is going."

Beautiful quote. Touching, actually! The kind of quote that makes bosses smile, forcing them to become more infatuated with you, before finally giving you that chance you've clamored for all this time.

It still doesn't mean Tebow should get it, though. One 22-yard spurt does not a quarterback make.

Ryan knows this. The Jets know this. Even Tebow knows this.

The question is, will it matter?

The answer depends on the other quarterback in town.

Who happens to be the starter.

Stephen A. Smith | email

ESPNNewYork.com columnist
Stephen A. Smith is a featured columnist for ESPNNewYork.com, a co-host on First Take" and a regular on "SportsCenter."

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