FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Rex Ryan gathered his three quarterbacks Wednesday morning and told them he had made up his mind.
He's sticking with Mark Sanchez.
The New York Jets coach spent two days weighing his options after benching Sanchez last Sunday against Arizona, talking to as many people within the organization as he could before settling on his quarterback.
I have to get this decision right, Ryan said, and I believe I have.
So, it will be Sanchez and not Greg McElroy or Tim Tebow on Sunday when the Jets take on the Jaguars in Jacksonville.
It's really a decision I feel great about, Ryan said.
Sanchez was pulled late in the third quarter against Arizona, and McElroy came in and led the Jets to the only touchdown of the game on his first NFL drive and helped New York to a 7-6 victory. Sanchez was 10 of 21 for 97 and three interceptions, while McElroy was 5 of 7 for 29 yards and the score, and appeared to spark the team.
Including, the Jets hope, Sanchez.
When I looked at everything, the biggest thing I kept coming back to is, who gives us the best opportunity to win? Ryan said. When I kept coming back to that, I believe the correct answer was Mark Sanchez.
It was perhaps the biggest call in Ryan's nearly four years as coach, considering the sensitivity of the situation and the possible ramifications. He acknowledged that there were differing opinions among those he spoke to, but said he received no pressure from owner Woody Johnson and added that he was absolutely OK with the decision.
I'm fortunate, he said. 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 from the first benching of his NFL career and to 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. But he also referenced the team's color-coded system which determined how much risk Sanchez can take with each pass, saying the quarterback is now back in the red light area — meaning he must be extremely cautious.
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.