Neil Best first worked at Newsday in 1982, then returned in 1985. His SportsWatch column debuted on Sept.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. - It was moments after the final note of ridiculousness that marked the end of the 2012 Jets as playoff contenders, but there was one last indignity left for Mark Sanchez Monday night.
Originally, the pressbox announcement was that the play that finished off a 14-10 loss to the Titans was a fumble by center Nick Mangold, who had snapped the ball low to Sanchez.
But wait: As reporters left for the grim visiting locker room at LP Field, word came over the public address system that the fumble in fact would be charged to Sanchez, a fitting bow wrapped around his four-interception night and his horrendous season.
It was one more quarterback folly to remember these Jets by -- and to remind everyone of the important decisions ahead this offseason. Actually, Rex Ryan would not even commit to Sanchez for Sunday's now-meaningless game against the Chargers.
"It doesn't feel good,'' Sanchez said in a tense postgame interview session that featured several clipped answers to the usual awkward questions. "I have to learn from it and play better for us to win.''
Sanchez explained what went wrong on each of his interceptions and accepted blame for the fateful fumbled snap after a botched punt by the Titans gave the Jets the ball at the Tennessee 25 with 47 seconds left. "I have to catch that ball,'' he said.
But he made no attempt to hide his ongoing frustration with the looming shadow of his backup, Tim Tebow. For the first time, Tebow was given an entire series -- but it came after Sanchez had looked fairly sharp early on.
After Tebow's cameo -- which had been pre-designated for the third possession -- Sanchez returned and promptly threw his first interception. Later, Tebow was inserted after a pair of completions by Sanchez.
Several attempts to get Sanchez to address Tebow's turns met with terse responses.
"I have no idea," he said when asked about the Tebow plan. "Ask the coach." But did he consider it a disruption to his momentum? "It's neither here nor there. I have to play better.''
When someone took another stab at that story line, Sanchez smirked. The reporter doing the asking wondered why he was smiling. "I knew what you were going to ask," he said. "I have no idea.''
So it went, and so it has gone all season. It doesn't matter who starts the next two games. Nothing has changed for weeks regarding the bottom line: The Jets don't have a championship-level quarterback on their roster.
That was painfully evident watching Sanchez, the last of whose interceptions ruined what had been a promising late drive. He threw under pressure off his back foot into quadruple coverage and was intercepted by Michael Griffin at the Tennessee 2 with 1:51 left.
And it also was evident watching Tebow. He did not do anything grotesquely wrong in his first appearance in a month, but he could not summon the magic for which he used to be known.
Tebow ran 2 yards for a first down on a third-and-1 in the first quarter. Then came the shocker: In the second quarter, he was allowed to play an entire series.
It began promisingly with an 11-yard run by Joe McKnight followed by a 12-yard run by Tebow. But the Jets got bogged down amid some curious play-calling and the series ended with Tebow throwing it away under heavy pressure on third-and-16. His throw almost hit an innocent bystander on the sideline.
Said Tebow: "I just tried to make the best of the situation."
The Jets need to rethink all of this in the offseason, during which if they are smart -- and merciful -- they will let Tebow join Jeremy Lin and R.A. Dickey as compelling New York sports stories of 2012 who won't be here in 2013.
After Tebow finds a new home, the Jets need to find a new alternative to Sanchez, who will be around next season thanks to his $8.25 million in guaranteed income but who certainly should not be guaranteed a starting job.
"It's disappointing," Sanchez said. "It's very disappointing.'' Is he worried about his job security? "I just have to go in and play and prepare like a starter and see what happens.''