Ryan: Sanchez starter 'this week'

Updated: October 11, 2012, 10:49 AM ET
By Rich Cimini | ESPNNewYork.com

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- New York Jets coach Rex Ryan, in perhaps his most revealing comments yet on the team's simmering quarterback controversy, wouldn't commit to the slumping Mark Sanchez beyond Sunday.

"I'm telling you right now, he's our starting quarterback this week," Ryan said Wednesday.

It didn't sound like a long-term commitment, not with the "this week" qualifier. Pressed on the matter, Ryan replied, "What do you want me to say? He's our starter. He's our starter this week."

It was a stark contrast to a comment he made last November, when Sanchez was struggling. One day after losing to the Denver Broncos -- and Tim Tebow, by the way -- Ryan gave Sanchez an iron-clad endorsement, declaring, "He will be our quarterback for as long as I'm here, which I hope will be for a long, long time."

Now, forever apparently comes with an expiration date.

Sanchez said he expects to remain the starter for the rest of the season, claiming, "I don't plan on anything going different." He said he doesn't interpret Ryan's remarks as a sign of diminishing confidence.

"He has faith in me, I believe that," Sanchez said. "I'm not worried about that, I'm really not."

Tebow Time might be getting closer, but, curiously, the Jets didn't run any Tebow plays in Wednesday's closed practice, sources said.

Ryan's lukewarm vote of confidence came on the same day in which owner Woody Johnson told CNBC he wants Tebow on the Jets for the remainder of his contract -- through 2014.

"Are we going to keep Tebow? Absolutely," Johnson said. "He'll be with us for three years. ... I think he's going to be a real valuable asset in terms of helping us win games."

Johnson, whom many believe was the driving force behind the team's decision to trade for Tebow, also expressed support for the embattled Sanchez. But he stopped short of saying Sanchez never would be benched.

"Never is a long time period," Johnson said. "But I see the same things in Mark Sanchez (as) when I first met him ... We think he's that good. He really is that good. I wouldn't look at the numbers too seriously. A quarterback's job ultimately is to win games. Mark Sanchez has proven that he can do that."

Sanchez is 29-23 as a starter, plus 4-2 in the postseason, but he's mired in one of the worst slumps of his career -- four consecutive games in which he has completed less than 50 percent of his passes. He's ranked at or near the bottom of the league in most of the major statistical categories, fueling an outcry for Ryan to start Tebow.

Ryan insisted he won't bow to public pressure.

"One thing I know about the public: The public wants to win, just like we do," Ryan said. "The decision of playing Tebow will be my decision. It's not going to be the public's decision or anybody else's. It's on me."

Ryan echoed Johnson's sentiments about Tebow, saying "without question" he wants to keep him through 2014. But he quickly added there are no guarantees with any player, and that they wouldn't ignore an opportunity to improve the team.

The Jets are paying Tebow a total of $1.6 million this season, but they're on the hook for another $2 million to the Broncos as part of the trade agreement -- a considerable investment for a so-called backup.

Ryan said he remains "very confident" in Sanchez, insisting his faith in him hasn't wavered at all. But the Jets (2-3) have dropped two in a row and the injury-plagued offense has produced only two touchdowns in the past three games.

If they lose at home Sunday to rookie quarterback Andrew Luck and the upstart Indianapolis Colts, the cry for Tebow would be deafening. Sources told ESPNNewYork.com last week that Johnson, concerned about filling his stadium, could push for Tebow in an effort to generate electricity.

So far, the Jets' ballyhooed plans for Tebow have gone bust. He has played only 39 snaps on offense, failing to generate much of a spark. He has rushed 14 times for 57 yards and he's 1-for-2 as a passer. He's made more of an impact as the personal protector on the punt team, having converted two first downs on direct snaps.

There was intense speculation that Tebow would have a significant role Monday night, but he played only seven snaps in the 23-17 loss to the Houston Texans.

"The Wildcat hasn't gone like we hoped it would," Ryan said. "We're going to try to build and get better at it."

People are questioning why the Jets made the bold move for Tebow, considering his lack of playing time. Ryan claimed his belief in Tebow -- and their plan for him -- hasn't changed.

"We picked him up because we thought -- we know -- Tebow is a good football player," he said. "He can bring our team certain elements we thought we were missing the year before."

Meanwhile, Sanchez continues to live with the speculation. Asked how he copes with it, he said, "Stick around the building, put blinders on, put some earplugs in and keep playing."

Rich Cimini

ESPN New York Jets reporter

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