FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Tim Tebow won't get mad if you call him a bad quarterback. But call him a bad teammate, and that draws his ire.
Concerned about preserving his squeaky-clean reputation as a team player, Tebow lashed out at critics Wednesday, insisting he never told coach Rex Ryan he wanted out of the New York Jets' Wildcat package.
Tebow said he was so upset with the perception he quit on the team that it dampened his Christmas.
"For people to not know the situation and to bash your character and say you're a phony, you're a fake and you're a hypocrite, I think that's what's disappointing and that's what's frustrating," he said. "It's a football game. That's one thing, if you're good or bad at football, but your character and integrity, that's who you are as a man.
"That's a lot more important. That's what's disappointing for me and frustrating because I take that way more serious than I'll ever take a football game."
The controversy began Sunday night, when ESPNNewYork.com first reported that Tebow was so upset at being passed over for the starting quarterback job that he didn't want to be used as a situational player in the Wildcat.
Tebow confirmed he was miffed that Greg McElroy was named to replace Mark Sanchez as the Jets' starter. He expressed that sentiment in what sources called a heated discussion with Ryan. Tebow also admitted he told Ryan he was unhappy in his role in the Wildcat -- but claimed he never asked out of the package.
"I never said, 'Hey, I don't want to do anything or I won't do anything,' " Tebow said. "That wasn't the talk at all. He knows that and everybody on this team knows I would never not do something if I was asked.
"That's what's disappointing, people saying, 'You quit' or, 'You didn't do this.' That was not it at all. It was me asking to get an opportunity to play the position I love, which is quarterback. It wasn't me asking out of anything."
It's a matter of semantics. A source said Ryan and his staff were left with the distinct impression Tebow didn't want to continue in his Wildcat role, so they immediately replaced him with wide receiver Jeremy Kerley, who ran three plays in Sunday's loss to the San Diego Chargers. Tebow was active for the game, but didn't play a snap on offense or on special teams.
After the game, Tebow was vague in his comments to reporters, never mentioning his meeting with Ryan or the fact that he approached him again Friday to revisit the matter. Tebow revealed that information in a conversation Sunday night with ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter after news had leaked about his displeasure with his limited role.
Tebow was more animated Wednesday than in any previous interview during his nine months with the Jets. Recounting what he called a "man-to-man conversation" with Ryan, Tebow said, "I simply asked him to get an opportunity to play quarterback. That was my passion. I did tell him I was frustrated with the Wildcat and the success we were having and some of the stuff we were doing. (I was) definitely disappointed and frustrated and I let him know that. I just asked for an opportunity to play quarterback."
By then, Ryan made up his mind to start McElroy, who provided no spark whatsoever and was sacked 11 times in the 27-17 loss to Chargers.
Tebow evidently felt he had some unfinished business with Ryan, because he approached him again last Friday morning -- after Kerley received the Wildcat reps in Thursday's practice. Tebow said he impressed upon Ryan he was willing to perform in any role.
Tebow admitted Wednesday it's "a possibility" that Ryan misinterpreted his stance. In retrospect, Tebow wishes he had been more clear.
Ryan, meanwhile, continued to sidestep questions about how it all went down.
"Like I said, Tim would've gone in the game if I would've chosen to have him in the game," said Ryan, refusing to spell out Tebow's role this week as the Jets (6-9) prepare for the season finale against the Buffalo Bills (5-10).
This has been a bitterly disappointing season for Tebow, whom the Jets believed would add a dynamic dimension to the offense in the Wildcat. But he has rushed for only 102 yards and has attempted only six passes on offense.
Tebow's frustration had been mounting. The breaking point was Ryan's decision to start McElroy.
That, Tebow said, was the first time he complained to Ryan. They got into specific X's and O's, as Tebow griped about being limited to up-the-gut runs in the Wildcat. Some of his best plays with the Denver Broncos, including the play that beat the Jets last November, came on rollouts.
"I definitely did say that -- but I didn't ask out and I didn't say I wouldn't do anything," he said. "That is completely ... That is not the truth."
Tebow was evasive when asked if he had been guaranteed the No. 2 job before the season, saying, "I'm not going to talk about assurances or what was promised or anything like that."
The Jets are planning to part ways with Tebow after the season, sources said, even though he has two years remaining on his contract.
Asked if he'd like to return, Tebow paused a moment.
"I'm looking forward to this game versus Buffalo," he said.