Mark Sanchez left Rex Ryan no choice but to bench him

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Jets head coach Rex Ryan talks with quarterback

Jets head coach Rex Ryan talks with quarterback Mark Sanchez during a game against the Arizona Cardinals at MetLife Stadium. (Dec. 2, 2012) Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac

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Neil Best Newsday columnist Neil Best

Neil Best first worked at Newsday in 1982, then returned in 1985. His SportsWatch column debuted on Sept.

The Jets' quarterback situation is a lost cause, but Rex Ryan's term as coach probably is not, so every decision he makes these days is more about him than about his motley crew of signal callers.

That was why, in a typically roundabout Jets way, Ryan's announcement Tuesdaythat Greg McElroy will start Sunday's home finale made perfect sense. Is McElroy a long-term solution? Almost certainly not. Does he give the Jets the best chance to beat the Chargers? Who knows, and who cares?

But what the former third-stringer does offer is short-term credibility for Ryan, which is crucial moving forward -- assuming he holds on to his job and becomes the point man for the Jets' attempt to climb out of this wreckage.

(Not that Ryan helped his cause during a maddeningly mealy-mouthed conference call to discuss the big decision. More about that later.)

There was no way he could stick with Mark Sanchez. That would have risked a revolt in the locker room and also would have cruelly forced Sanchez to face a stadium half-full of angry Jets fans poised to pounce.

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Tim Tebow? Well, the poor guy does deserve a shot after all these months, and that would have been the most theatrical option. But the coaching staff has long since shown it does not believe in Tebow. Most players and fans don't, either. Plus, Tebow figures to be an ex-Jet soon after pitchers and catchers report, so what's the point?

(If this diss doesn't cause Tebow to lash out publicly, nothing ever will.)

Nope, McElroy it is, and McElroy it should be, an improbable encore for a guy whose entire NFL career to this point was completing five passes for 29 yards and a touchdown against Arizona Dec. 2.

During Ryan's call with reporters, he faced a series of obvious questions and did all he could not to answer them while summoning Mark McGwire as he stonewalled on anything that might be considered the "past."

"That's what I feel in my gut,'' he said of naming McElroy. "I truly believe it's best for our team right now.''

Why not Tebow, a guy with more experience who has been serving as the primary backup? Ryan repeatedly refused to say.

Who will be the backup Sunday? Ryan wouldn't say. What about the future beyond Dec. 30? Nada, from the most famously loquacious coach in recent New York sports history.

The frustrating performance did not reflect well on Ryan, but presumably he had his reasons.

Owner Woody Johnson does not plan to address all of this until after the season ends, but Ryan insisted he is not concerned about his job security, or making decisions based on it.

"The priority is not me by any stretch,'' he said. "I'm not thinking about myself. I'm thinking about this football team.''

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OK, then, let's do that. If McElroy does manage his way to a couple of victories, perhaps he can prove he is good enough so that when the Jets find their quarterback of the near future, he can be the kind of savvy backup that Cowboys coach Jason Garrett used to be.

The most important thing for Ryan Tuesday, though, was simply to tame the circus, or at least alter the narrative, which found ESPN and SNY analysts, sports talk hosts and newspaper columnists in an escalating competition to see who could be most creative in taking apart the Jets.

Not that there was much sport left in it after Monday night's debacle. The interview session that followed was grim, with reporters struggling to be respectful while posing questions that had to be asked and Sanchez giving clipped answers, especially about the ongoing disruption that is Tebow.

All that is history now that Ryan essentially has admitted Sanchez needs a vacation, Tebow needs a new home and McElroy needs a shot.

What really matters is how Ryan himself works his way out of this mess and into 2013. He figures to be back, and he deserves to be back. But what will he be coming back to?

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