A day after benching Mark Sanchez for the first time since the two began their careers with the Jets in 2009, Rex Ryan isn't ready to make a decision yet on whether he'll go back to Sanchez this week, or effectively end the quarterback's tenure in New York by going with backup Greg McElroy. Or, in a more unlikely move, Tim Tebow.
With the Jets' season hanging in the balance after McElroy rescued the Jets from one of Sanchez's worst performances, Ryan said he still needed another day or two to make his decision.
It says here Ryan needs to stick with Sanchez -- at least for now.
Surely there is a temptation to go with McElroy and see if the jolt he gave to the Jets' offense in relief of Sanchez in a desultory 7-6 win over the inept Cardinals can continue this week in Jacksonville. And Ryan will no doubt give consideration to Tebow starting a game in his hometown, although Tebow's rib injury and the team's unwillingness to give him meaningful playing time suggest he's not the preferred option.
The expedient move for Ryan is to simply throw up his hands with Sanchez and stick with McElroy, a move that undoubtedly would be applauded by fans frustrated by Sanchez's weak performances.
But there is still one more valuable opportunity for Ryan to see if Sanchez still has it in him to be this team's quarterback, and that means sticking with him for at least one more start. Especially now that the fourth-year quarterback understands his time might be up in New York.
You might say there is a big enough body of evidence to suggest that it is already time to move on from Sanchez, that his mediocre numbers offer sufficient proof that he is not the answer. And that may ultimately be the case, since there's no ignoring his regression over the last 15 games, going back to last year's three-game, season-ending losing streak.
But Ryan is now presented with one more chance -- one last chance, really -- to see if Sanchez deserves to stay. Why? Because Ryan can see how Sanchez does now that the coach has finally doled out the dose of tough love that he should have delivered a few weeks before now. Ryan had never taken the ball away from Sanchez before, and it's worth one more shot to see if he can respond to the benching in a way that offers any hope for the future.
Look, it's possible Sanchez already has provided that answer, that he simply isn't capable of getting any better and it is time for the franchise to move on. It certainly feels that way, especially after the last two games. But Ryan needs to know definitively, and the only way that happens is to see how he responds in this spot. To see if Sanchez responds like he did the first time Ryan even remotely hinted that Sanchez might be benched.
Remember the 2010 season, when Ryan was so concerned about Sanchez's performance after a poor effort in Week 14 that the coach gave aging backup Mark Brunell a few snaps with the first-string offense in practice? Sanchez became livid, even suggesting in a magazine article after the season that he considered having a fistfight with Ryan. It turned out to be an important moment because Sanchez responded with a terrific effort the next week in Pittsburgh. The Jets eventually went to the AFC Championship Game, in large part because Sanchez played well.
Ryan tried the same thing late in the 2011 season, to no avail. Sanchez collapsed down the stretch, and the Jets went 8-8 and missed the playoffs.
But now, with Sanchez being benched for the first time, with no more coddling from Ryan and no more sense of entitlement to the No. 1 job, Sanchez understands that his career in New York is on the line.
I'm not saying Sanchez will prove he can get the job done. In fact, there's every possibility that it will soon become time to see what McElroy can do as the starter. But before anyone anoints the second-year passer as the answer, recall another time when a plucky young seventh-round quarterback with plenty of swagger took over after the benching of a high-priced veteran. Glenn Foley was the toast of the town when he relieved Neil O'Donnell at halftime of a game against the Patriots in 1997, leading the Jets to a 24-19 win with an electrifying performance.
Foley, who showed a similar huddle presence as McElroy did on Sunday, was eventually anointed the starter. But that tenure lasted all of three starts before Bill Parcells turned to Vinny Testaverde, a No. 1 overall pick who had been through his own struggles early in his career.
Turning to McElroy now still won't definitively answer the question of whether it is time to move on from Sanchez. And with $8.25 million in guaranteed money due next season -- a critical salary-cap issue, especially if the Jets release him -- Ryan needs to know if the Sanchez era is finally at an end.
The coach needs to give him one more Sunday to know for sure.