Mark Sanchez looks on from the bench during the fourth...

Mark Sanchez looks on from the bench during the fourth quarter of a game against the San Francisco 49ers. (Sept. 30, 2012) Credit: Jim McIsaac

Quarterback controversy? Hah! The Jets would love it if the solution to their difficulties was as simple as replacing Mark Sanchez with Tim Tebow or Greg McElroy or, heck, why not Joe Namath?

Sure, Sanchez was disturbingly awful Sunday in a 34-0 loss to the 49ers that gave new meaning to the term butt-kicking, which is how coach Rex Ryan initially described it before opting for a naughtier word.

But he found himself surrounded by a supporting cast that couldn't run, couldn't catch and couldn't block, abetted by a defense that couldn't tackle. All of which contributed to the fact that he couldn't throw.

What went wrong? "Everything,'' said center Nick Mangold, who added this when asked about his quarterback: "Mark's only one guy; there are 10 of us messing it up as well.''

Ryan acknowledged that Sanchez has to be better, but he also noted the quarterback was under frequent "duress.''

All true.

The Jets properly lined up to accept blame, from Ryan to Sanchez and down the line. But please don't forget general manager Mike Tannenbaum, whose roster began the season low on playmakers and now has seen them all but disappear.

Cornerback Darrelle Revis, the Jets' most dynamic defensive player, is out with a torn ACL. Wide receiver Santonio Holmes, their most dynamic offensive player, suffered what appeared to be a serious foot injury, joining tight end Dustin Keller and receiver Stephen Hill on the shelf. How will the Jets deal with such a lack of firepower?

"We're going to have to,'' Sanchez said. "I mean, what are we going to do? We can't just not show up. We have to play and we have to play better than we did no matter who's out there.''

A better quarterback might overcome a thin roster and bad injury luck to drag his team through tough times, but that doesn't seem to be in the cards for a guy well into his fourth season. Sunday's dreary 13-for-29, 103-yard, one-interception, one-devastating-fumble dud was the latest evidence of his limitations. But tossing him aside in favor of Tebow? No.

"I think Mark is the answer,'' Ryan said, dismissing the notion of a change. "But again, time will tell.''

It is theoretically possible that Tebow could provide a short-term lift by making something out of nothing -- one of his specialties. But if the Jets want to contend in the near future, they are better off sticking with Sanchez, praying he gets help around him and trying to gather steam for a late-season run.

Remember, they currently are in first. And this is the NFL, where no team in the league's modern history has been as awful as the Jets were Sunday over an extended period.

So there's a starting point for the long week before the mighty Texans come to town: They can't be any worse!

Here's an even more optimistic spin, courtesy of Tebow, now 1-for-1 as a passer for the Jets, even though his lone completion ended with a lost fumble by Dedrick Epps: "It could be one of the best things that happened to us all season,'' he said.

How so? "It really is something you can rally behind and it will motivate you.''

Ryan was as angry as he ever has been in a postgame news conference. "Our fans deserve a heck of a lot better than this,'' he said. "We had a packed stadium and we played terrible.''

He said he still would bet on the character of his players in the long run. But character gets you only so far in the NFL. The Jets need what's left of their players to make plays. It starts with the quarterback, yes. But it's wishful thinking to believe it ends anywhere close to just him.