FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- The Jets' season will end just as it began. With Mark Sanchez, shockingly, under center.
In a stunning turn of events, Rex Ryan chose to return to his season-long starter Thursdayafter discovering that Greg McElroy had hid concussion symptoms after being sacked 11 times in last week's loss to San Diego.
"You're not going to believe this one," Ryan said at the start of his news conference.
The announcement capped a string of surprising quarterback moves involving Sanchez, McElroy and seldom-used backup Tim Tebow. For the second time in a week, Tebow -- the Jets' purported No. 2 -- was passed over for the starting gig. "Tim's not happy with that, as you'd expect," Ryan acknowledged.
Nevertheless, Ryan said he felt "more comfortable" with Sanchez leading the offense in their season finale at Buffalo. The coach highlighted the fact that at that point, the Jets had only two remaining practices and a walk-through before the game, plus Sanchez's past success against the Bills: 266 passing yards and three touchdowns in their 48-28 Week 1 rout.
"I know he believes in himself and I think any competitor would want this opportunity," Ryan said of Sanchez, whom he benched in favor of McElroy after his five turnovers against the Titans sunk the Jets' playoff chances in Week 15.
According to Ryan, McElroy experienced headaches while lifting weights Thursday morning. At about 9:30 a.m., McElroy walked into his office with head trainer John Mellody and disclosed his symptoms.
"I admire his courage and everything else, but you have to be truthful," said Ryan, who added that McElroy showed no signs of a concussion Sunday or in the days that followed. "And I think that's a lesson learned here with the medical staff . . . I understand the competitive side of Greg and all that, but the most important thing is the health of the players."
McElroy was being evaluated Thursday, but Ryan said he's out: "I don't care what the tests say."
On Wednesday, Sanchez was preparing for his second straight game as the clipboard manager. But now he has a chance to end his disappointing season on a high note.
"I guess you didn't expect it that quickly," said Sanchez, who is owed a guaranteed $8.25 million in 2013. " . . . Things totally flipped today. It's a good example of how this league works and you're one play away as a backup, so be ready."
He said he's "excited to be playing again" and isn't feeling any added pressure to prove he can handle the starting job. "No different than any week being in this spot," Sanchez said.
With McElroy out, Tebow will have to be the No. 2 quarterback. But Ryan -- who delivered the news to Sanchez and Tebow at the same time -- made no promises of playing Tebow in the season finale. "I can definitely understand the frustrations of not getting the opportunity to play as much as I'm sure he would have liked," Ryan said.
Said Tebow, "Obviously you're a competitor, you want to play, but I understood his decision. And, like always, I let him know I'll do whatever I can to help the team in any way."
McElroy was not available for comment, per NFL protocol.
"You knew he didn't look exactly right at the beginning of the day, so it wasn't odd when we heard he was going to see the trainers," Tebow said. "I think it's hard for a competitor, even if you're feeling something, to always report it. It's not the way you're trained as a competitor. You're taught to fight through it."
As Ryan left the podium, he was asked if this is the strangest season he's ever had. "I'd say that's accurate,'' he said. "And we've had some strange ones.''