Commentary

Sanchez falls victim to the inevitable

Rex Ryan had to bench his starting QB, but that wasn't the big surprise on Sunday

Updated: December 2, 2012, 10:57 PM ET
By Rich Cimini | ESPNNewYork.com

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- At the lowest moment of his professional career, Mark Sanchez got the cold-shoulder treatment from his superiors. It was fitting, because they've ignored him for … oh, about nine months.

When he came to the sideline after his 10th straight scoreless possession Sunday, the New York Jets quarterback was informed by Tony Sparano that he was being replaced by Greg McElroy. That the news was delivered by the offensive coordinator, not the head coach, was bad form.

Sanchez tried to talk to Sparano, but Sparano turned away. Sanchez approached Rex Ryan, who made the decision that rocked the franchise  and could continue to rattle it for years to come. By then, Ryan already was focused on the defensive series, and all he could manage was a "Yeah" when asked by Sanchez if McElroy was in.

[+] EnlargeSanchez/Tebow
Debby Wong/US PresswireMark Sanchez and Tim Tebow watch Greg McElroy take over the Jets offense on Sunday.

"I just wanted to hear it from the head coach, that's all," Sanchez said after the Jets' ugly 7-6 win over the Arizona Cardinals.

Ryan was justified to make the change because Sanchez, with three interceptions, was terrible. It was his worst game in a season filled with stinkers, and now there's a good chance he will lose his job to McElroy, whose NFL resume consists of seven pass attempts  all Sunday. After the game, Ryan declined to name a starter for next week.

This mess was inevitable. The organization did little in the offseason to help Sanchez, their so-called franchise quarterback, saddling him with a supporting cast devoid of top weapons. They hired a coordinator with no experience in developing quarterbacks and, oh yeah, they traded for Tim Tebow.

The Jets gave Sanchez more money with a contract extension and they gave him plenty of pats on the back, but they didn't give him enough players, so it's no wonder the offense has struggled since, like, the first day of training camp.

The only surprise here is that it was McElroy, and not Tebow, that replaced him.

"When you're around the game long enough, you get that feeling that -- you know what? -- I've seen enough and it's time to make that change," said Ryan, explaining his decision and refusing to give Sanchez his weekly vote of confidence.

Sanchez proved in 2009 and 2010 he could drive a Cadillac into the playoffs. This season, he was handed a Ford, and he obviously isn't one of those special quarterbacks who can elevate those around him.

There are only a handful of them in the league. The point is, the front office didn't give him a fighting chance. The Jets went into the season with one proven receiver, Santonio Holmes, and he went down with a season-ending injury in Week 4.

The clock was ticking on Sanchez. He got caught in the perfect storm: a crummy offense and a coaching staff worried about its job security. Interestingly, Sparano called the offense together before Sanchez's final drive and lashed into his players. He didn't mention anything about a potential quarterback change, players said, but he had reached his breaking point.

They responded with a three-and-out series.

With Tebow out of the picture -- inactive with cracked ribs -- Ryan gave the masses what they wanted, a new quarterback. The move came with 4:48 left in the third quarter, and the Jets were down, 3-0, in a game that never will be used in a quarterback instructional video. For Sanchez, this was more jarring than running into Brandon Moore's backside.

"I didn't expect it, but it doesn't matter," he said, dressed in a black suit -- an appropriate fashion statement. "It's the coach's call. He wants to win the game, so he's going to do his best to do that."

McElroy didn't do anything spectacular, completing five of seven passes for 29 yards and a touchdown, but he provided a noticeable jolt. As safety Yeremiah Bell said, "You could definitely feel a spark in the stadium."

In his first possession, McElroy led a 10-play, 69-yard touchdown drive, hitting a wide-open Jeff Cumberland on a rollout to make it 7-3.

"He's a pretty confident kid, borderline cocky," Moore said of McElroy, who took only one practice rep with the starters last week.

Now Ryan must decide if McElroy, who led the offense to 152 of their 289 total yards in four possessions, can sustain that spark over four quarters. It's a leap of faith, and Ryan's job could depend on it.

After his news conference, Ryan stopped by Sanchez's locker, put his right arm around him and spoke to him for a few minutes. Sanchez, facing his locker, nodded. It's rare for Ryan to be in the locker room during the media period; he usually repairs to his office. Ryan likes Sanchez, he really does. He hitched his career to Sanchez in 2009, when they drafted him fifth overall.

"He was just saying to hang in there," Sanchez said.

This was Sanchez's worst game in a long time. His first pass was a panic throw under pressure, a balloon over the middle that was intercepted by former Jets safety Kerry Rhodes. On his eighth pass, Sanchez was picked off again by Rhodes, whom Ryan trashed in his 2011 book. This was Ryan's worst nightmare. Then came an interception by Patrick Peterson.

"It wasn't my day," Sanchez said.

If he gets to keep his job, he'll have more of those days.

Rich Cimini

ESPN New York Jets reporter

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