FLORHAM PARK, N.J. – With the utterance of two words, coach Rex Ryan added new fuel to the fire surrounding the New York Jets quarterback quandary.
And, it's only Week 6.
Standing at his locker, Mark Sanchez answered every question carefully at Wednesday's practice, making it clear he still believes he's the long-term solution at quarterback for the Jets.
A few minutes later, Tim Tebow again talked about how he wants to make the most of every opportunity he gets, skillfully dancing around every attempt to bait him into admitting that he's frustrated with his limited role.
"It's part of the territory," Sanchez said Wednesday. "It's part of the way things go. When you're winning, it's easy, it's great, it's fun. And when you go through some tough times, you have to find a way to dig yourself out and use the best shovel possible."
Well, things got a bit more muddled when owner Woody Johnson told CNBC on Wednesday morning that Tebow will "be with us for three years," putting to rest any suggestions that the Jets (2-3) might want to try to trade the popular backup in the offseason.
That would mean a few more years of constant questions about who should be the starter: Sanchez or Tebow? And, can the two really coexist?
"It's possible," Sanchez said. "It's going well for me. I feel good."
A few hours after Johnson's comments, coach Rex Ryan said Sanchez is the team's starting quarterback "this week" — but curiously wouldn't make a long-term commitment.
The decision of playing Tebow will be my decision. It's not going to be the public's decision or anybody else's. It's on me.
- Coach Rex Ryan
Ryan has repeatedly said Sanchez is his guy, as he did even Tuesday, a day after the Jets' 23-17 loss to the Houston Texans. Last November, Ryan boldly declared: "He's going to be our quarterback for as long as I'm here, which I hope is a long, long time."
But having Tebow as your backup is far from a normal situation, and Ryan — as well as offensive coordinator Tony Sparano — has been asked about the quarterback situation several times during the last few weeks. He insisted that no switch to Tebow is coming. So, when he was pressed Wednesday about his qualifier — "this week" — Ryan got slightly testy.
"What do you want me to say?" Ryan asked. "He's our starter. He's our starter this week."
None of that matters to Sanchez, despite his struggles since the season opener against Buffalo in which he threw three touchdown passes.
"He has faith in me, I believe that," Sanchez said. "I'm not worried about that. I'm really not."
His overall numbers, however, are cause for concern. Sanchez has completed less than 50 percent of his passes in four straight games, and his 48.4 completion percentage ranks last in the NFL. He also has an unsightly 66.6 quarterback rating, which is 31st in the league — ahead of only Kansas City's Matt Cassel (66.2) and Cleveland rookie Brandon Weeden (64.5).
With that, the criticism has been growing, something Sanchez has learned to deal with.
"I stick around the building," Sanchez said with a smile, "put blinders on, put some earplugs in and keep playing."
Meanwhile, Tebow has played only 38 offensive snaps and spent most of his time on the sideline as he averages a mere eight plays a game.
"You just want to make them the best eight they can be," Tebow said.
He has 57 yards rushing on 14 carries and is 1 of 2 passing for 9 yards. Tebow does have two first downs on direct snaps as the personal protector, but so far the talk about the dynamic element he would bring has been nowhere to be found.
Tebow reiterated that "I love being a Jet and I want to stay a Jet," when asked about Johnson's comments. He also said he's just going to "take it one game at a time" when asked if he would be OK with being the backup for the next three years.
"You never know what's going to happen in the future, so I'm not going to be someone that looks in the future and says, 'This is what it's going to be,'" Tebow said. "I'm going to take every day in stride and just try to make the most I can of every single day."
It's probably time the Jets make the most of the player they advertised as being a guy who could be a game-changing element to the offense. The Tebow-featured wildcat-style offense, Ryan acknowledged, has not produced the results the Jets would have hoped.
But the solution could be simple: Keep both quarterbacks on the field at the same time. All the time.
With many fans and media calling for Tebow to be used more often — and some even clamoring for him to supplant Sanchez as the starter — the pressure's on. Not that that will affect Ryan's decision-making process.
"One thing I know about the public: The public wants to win, just like we do," Ryan said. "The decision of playing Tebow will be my decision. It's not going to be the public's decision or anybody else's. It's on me."
With an offense severely lacking consistent big-play production, in large part because of injuries to wide receivers Santonio Holmes and Stephen Hill, and tight end Dustin Keller, the Jets are short on dynamic players. Second-year receiver Jeremy Kerley is one, but Tebow and running back-kick returner Joe McKnight are two others.
Tebow played seven snaps Monday night, while McKnight was in on nine. If New York is looking for a spark, having both regularly lined up in the backfield — behind Sanchez — could provide that. The Jets have tried that very sparingly, and increasing that approach has been kicked around by the offense in recent weeks.
It would keep Tebow on the field to run, catch or throw the ball at any time, making things even more predictable for opposing defenses.
"This is the reason we brought him here: He's a playmaker, he's a winner," McKnight said. "We put him on the field, he can make things happen."
Having McKnight in the backfield as an emergency valve — an element missing without LaDainian Tomlinson — along with Tebow would help the short passing game.
"Yeah, that would be fun," McKnight said. "Man, that would be something to look forward to right there."
That would also satisfy Sanchez, who would remain the starting quarterback without the awkward and sometimes confusing routine of having one run off the field while the other runs on, and vice versa. It would also mean less of Sanchez lining up as a wide receiver when Tebow lines up under center.
"I think there are definitely parts of that that can be effective, with both of us on the field," Tebow said. "I think we have shown that a few times this year and had some pretty effective plays, but it is something that can work."
As for starting running back Shonn Greene, he's averaging a disappointing 2.9 yards a carry. The Jets could conceivably use him as a "closer," a role he excelled in as a rookie in 2009 when he pounded tired defenders in the second half of games.
Either way, there's still time — and options — remaining for the Jets to make the Sanchez-Tebow dynamic work to win games, without the team having to choose one or the other.
"I'll defer to coach Sparano," Sanchez said. "If that's what he feels can help us win, we'll rally around that and make it work."
Based on reporting by the Associated Press.