Desperation has brought the Jets here: out of playoff contention and in search of answers to explain a second straight season of failed expectations. Rex Ryan shouldered the blame for a record that fell to 6-8 Monday night after one of Mark Sanchez's worst performances.
General manager Mike Tannenbaum could possibly be the fall guy in their house of cards, but on Tuesday Ryan took ownership of their poor season. But in the midst of accepting culpability, the coach explained why Sanchez is not the answer, at least for this week.
In the aftermath of a 14-10 loss at Tennessee -- spurred by Sanchez's five turnovers, including a fumble on the final play -- Ryan told Sanchez, the purported face of the franchise, that he will not start Sunday against San Diego. Instead, Greg McElroy, the same quarterback whom Ryan deactivated in favor of Sanchez and Tim Tebow the past two weeks, will make his first start.
According to a report Monday night, Tebow will request a trade or release if he is bypassed for a start in the final two games. Tebow's agent, Jimmy Sexton, did not return calls Tuesday night.
"I just think it's best for our team and for this game," Ryan said of his decision to start the third-stringer, who, in place of Sanchez, engineered a come-from-behind win over Arizona on Dec. 2. "That's how I feel."
Assured of a second straight non-winning season after building up the team as potentially one of his best ever, Ryan finds himself grasping at straws. Had the Jets eked out a win Monday night, Sanchez (who is guaranteed $8.25 million in 2013) surely would still be the starter. But because he failed once again, Ryan had no choice but to turn to someone else.
McElroy, however, is a Band-Aid solution to a long-term issue facing the Jets, who seem to lack complete confidence in any of their three quarterbacks. Before Monday's game, Ryan said he felt more comfortable with Tebow as the backup. But after Sanchez ended the game with an NFL-worst 50 turnovers over the past two seasons, Ryan didn't turn to his usual No. 2.
"It's my decision," Ryan said Tuesday on ESPN radio. "In making this decision, I just focused on where we are, right now. And what I think is the best for our team this game, and that's going with Greg McElroy."
Ryan said he wasn't sure who will back up McElroy Sunday. Perhaps more telling, he said Sanchez's future status as a starter will be "determined later."
Ryan said he "didn't want to get into specifics" or "the particulars" of his decision to start McElroy over Tebow, whom he would only call "a tremendous competitor." When asked why McElroy wasn't activated the past two games, Ryan said he's focused on "what's in front of us and not looking back."
Jets great Joe Namath had his own theory for Ryan's decision. "Rex had to go with McElroy or he would have lost his players," the Super Bowl champion quarterback said during his weekly ESPN radio spot.
Although Ryan said he and owner Woody Johnson speak "all the time," the coach reiterated that the decision to start McElroy was his alone. "He's always let me make these decisions," Ryan said of Johnson.
Ryan maintained he's focused on the task at hand and nothing else -- even his job security. "The end result is we're 6-8 and I know that I'm accountable for that," he said. "Whatever decisions are made and everything else, this is a bottom-line business and right now we're 6-8."