Quarterback status the same after first scrimmage

Jets quarterback Tim Tebow scrambles out of the

Jets quarterback Tim Tebow scrambles out of the backfield after getting defensive pressure during a scrimmage. (Aug. 4, 2012) (Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams, Jr.)

CORTLAND, N.Y.

It happened more quickly than the most cynical observer could have anticipated. The Jets played their initial sort-of game Saturday night, and sure enough, when it was over, Rex Ryan acknowledged the inevitable:

"First off, obviously there's a quarterback controversy,'' he said.

Kidding!

It turned out the coach was referring to fourth-stringer Matt Simms, who threw the loveliest pass of the intrasquad scrimmage, a 31-yard completion for a touchdown to Raymond Webber. "Was it Matt Simms or Phil Simms? I don't know,'' Ryan said of Phil's son. "He looked pretty darn impressive.''

True. But what of the two quarterbacks on whom the Jets actually will rely in 2012? That was more complicated.

After a week of practices leading up to Saturday night's showcase before 9,200 onlookers, we can make this observation:

Sanchez is the more polished, more conventional presence, a clear No. 1 until proven otherwise.

Tim Tebow is what Tebow has been -- an intriguing wild card that must be played carefully.

Sorry not to have something more profound for you.

It was difficult to draw conclusions because three starters were missing on the line, including one (Nick Mangold) in London to watch his sister, Holley, lift weights in the Olympics and another, Brandon Moore, in Canton to watch Curtis Martin's induction into the Hall of Fame.

"It was tough,'' Ryan said. "I was kidding [offensive coordinator Tony Sparano]. I said, 'Tony, I love you, but I'm betting on the defense tonight.' ''

That was a smart wager in a "first half'' during which the offense did nothing. But Sanchez opened the second by leading the first-team offense on a nice drive against the No. 1 defense, capped by an 8-yard touchdown pass to Bilal Powell.

Sanchez was 11-for-16 passing for 82 yards and was "sacked'' three times, even though quarterbacks are not allowed to be tackled in scrimmages.

Tebow's day was more nuanced. He was 0-for-3 passing, but two misses were accurate long throws that narrowly missed connecting against good coverage. The other was a drop.

More impressive was Tebow's trademark running / scrambling, plays that were blown dead as soon as a defender touched him.

Asked if it was good to play "real'' football at last, Tebow said the live goal-line drill Thursday during which he ran for two touchdowns and threw for another was far more like actual football.

"It makes it hard; you can't really do too much in something like this,'' he said.

Tebow had to laugh when defensive coordinator Mike Pettine called for a two-deep coverage on a key third down, knowing that under normal circumstances, that would open huge running lanes for Tebow.

Despite the oh-fer in the passing game, he said he was happy with his throws, even though he held on to the ball too long on one of them.

Ryan said Tebow "did a lot of great things.'' He was especially impressed with how Tebow handled a play designed to be a run out of the shotgun. When the snap was high, "he made a quick decision, made the guy miss and ran for a big gain. He's a threat every time he drops back.''

Said Sanchez: "Tim obviously ran the ball really well. It was touch football for him today or he might still be running.''

So there you have it at the first milestone of summer, Jets fans. Mark Sanchez is your quarterback. Tim Tebow is your novelty. Matt Simms is your favorite son.

Next stop: Cincinnati for the preseason opener Friday.