EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Rex Ryan is sticking with the decision he’s made all season: Mark Sanchez will be the New York Jets starting quarterback.
Following what many thought to be the final audition of his career as the team’s starter, Ryan surprised many when the Jets announced on Wednesday that Sanchez would be starting against the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday.
According to the New York Daily News, Ryan sought advice from many within the organization in what some consider “the most important decision during his four-year tenure as head coach.”
Opinions within the team were mixed as to who should lead the team in light of recent events.
Sources told the NY Daily News that while Jets’ owner Woody Johnson preferred Greg McElroy start, General Manager Mike Tannenbaum and offensive coordinator Tony Sparano sided with Sanchez.
"I'm fortunate," Sanchez said during the Jets press conference Wednesday. "I have a great relationship with my owner, with Woody. ... From the day Mr. Johnson hired me, he said it's 100 percent my decision who plays."
Sanchez, whose confidence was shaken with Sunday's miserable performance, gets a chance to bounce back and regain the trust of his teammates. He has struggled the last several weeks, with two touchdowns and five interceptions in his last four games.
"He has to play better and he has to protect the ball better," Ryan said. "As a football team, we have to protect the ball better than we have."
He'll likely be on a short leash against Jacksonville — with McElroy possibly ready to go — but Ryan acknowledged that it might not be a quick hook if he struggles.
"If he throws one interception, it doesn't mean he's going to get benched, necessarily," Ryan said.
It's still uncertain if Tebow will be active against his hometown Jaguars after sustaining two broken ribs. He was medically cleared by team doctors to play, but Ryan chose to keep him active but not play against New England on Thanksgiving night and then made him inactive against Arizona.
If Ryan went with McElroy, a seventh-round pick in 2011 out of Alabama, it would have been a clear message that the franchise is moving on from Sanchez.
"I'll just keep working, go study this film and keep trying to improve," Sanchez said Sunday after the game. "I need to understand where the mistakes came from, keep studying, keep preparing, be ready to play next week and see what happens."
However, money might have played a role, too, with Sanchez owed $8.25 million next year in guarantees. But Ryan adamantly denied that factored into the decision.
"Absolutely zero," he said without hesitating.
Still, the Jets are likely stuck with Sanchez and his contract, so they need to see if he can rebound after the lowest point of his career.
"I believe in Mark," Ryan said. "He has the skill set that is pretty impressive."
Now, Ryan has sent the message to Sanchez: Perform or else. And, Sanchez gets one more shot to save his job this season — and his status as the Jets' franchise quarterback.
"I think Mark is plenty tough," Ryan said. "I don't think there's any doubt he has the mental toughness."
If Sanchez can't bounce back, it will be an intriguing offseason for New York, especially since Tebow has not played much since being acquired from Denver in March and might not be back next year.
The Jets have struggled with quarterback drama all season long with fans flip flopping between their loyalty to Sanchez and the allure of the NFL’s most famous backup quarterback Tim Tebow.
With reporting from The Associated Press.