This may not be Mark Sanchez's absolute last chance. But he should see it from here a lot more clearly than he saw Kerry Rhodes before throwing the kind of interceptions Sunday that should not consistently be occurring in a 59th NFL start.
"His first year, '09, we had the red-yellow-green," Ryan said Wednesday about the color-coded risk reminders with which the Jets instructed a quarterback who had just one season as a college starter. "You could say we are in red right now."
Spoken near the end of 19 minutes of Ryan belief in Sanchez, this was an indictment that dwarfs the vote of confidence, if you even want to call it that. The coach admitted the hook he reluctantly used on Sanchez in the third quarter against the Cardinals has not gone back into storage for the rest of the season. If the coach has to use it, there will be no second return to Sanchez and yet still not much chance of Tim Tebow or Greg McElroy becoming the No. 1 quarterback in 2013.
If Ryan believed McElroy, who rallied the Jets past Arizona, had enough upside, he would be starting in Jacksonville. If the coach thought Tebow could do more than provide a change of pace, he would have had a larger role before suffering cracked ribs. There was no shrewd decision to be made here between quarterbacks of limitations, so Ryan made the most expedient one to go back to Sanchez for a road game against 2-10 Jacksonville, pending the more momentous call to be made in the offseason.
It has become difficult to fathom Sanchez playing so well in the next four games that the Jets will go into next season figuring they can live happily ever after with him as their starter. Wins last week by the Steelers and Colts have made a Jets playoff spot in 2012 a longer shot than ever, so, all due respect to Ryan's repeated insistence that he made this decision strictly on who gave the Jets the best chance to win this game, this lifeline extended to a thrashing Sanchez appears to be more anchor than flotation device. In the likely event this decision doesn't save the season, it will surface the road for a major change at the quarterback position in 2013.
Our guess is that a quarterback consistently doing rookie things deep into year four already has run out of time., not because of one abject clunker against Arizona but because it demonstrated once more that Sanchez lacks the innate feel required of a quarterback who can be relied upon.
He doesn't read defenses well, holds the ball too long, and has little instinct for danger. Sanchez can, as Ryan said Wednesday, make all the throws, but too often he doesn't know where to throw them, something no team with Super Bowl aspirations lives with into a fifth season.
"The guys who have been around here know that the tougher the situation, I play my best," Sanchez said after impaling himself on the pointed end of the football, saying he "gets it" and insisting he has the right stuff to rectify it.
Sanchez compared this situation to his rookie year, when the Jets won five of the last six to make the playoffs. Basketball's Pat Riley termed such initial flushes of success the "innocent climb" and, three years later, Sanchez, who has thrown more interceptions than touchdowns and has fumbled 10 times, looks guilty of a decline that has brought him to the crossroads of his career. This has a whole different deal than four seasons ago.
"I think he is mentally tough, I don't think there is any doubt," said Ryan. "I think for you to play quarterback in New York/New Jersey you had better be tough.
"It's not like everybody is positive here. It's probably a little different. Having another guy in the same stadium who has won two Super Bowls probably adds to it a little bit. But I think Mark is plenty tough."
He could show that over the next four games and still not prove he is the guy going forward. Because Ryan thinks Sanchez is better than Tim Tebow and Greg McElroy does not mean the coach believes Sanchez is better than Alex Smith, Matt Flynn or even Michael Vick, quarterbacks who may become available this offseason.
Draft West Virginia's Geno Smith or Arkansas' Tyler Wilson? Round up the usual suspects who played themselves out of favor elsewhere? It's not a situation a team having an incumbent quarterback still guaranteed $20 million wants to be in, but all that $20 million assures Sanchez is some leverage for a renegotiation that might give him an opportunity elsewhere. The big contract doesn't make him the starting quarterback for the 2013 Jets because the fans are not likely to tolerate it.
"Absolutely zero," said Ryan, asked what that monetary commitment had to do with the decision he has made for this week.. It's not important whether that was something he felt he had to say or the truth. Barring a complete collapse in the final four contests, Ryan is just a coach trying to win his next game, not one having to save his job. Beating 2-10 Jacksonville isn't going to spare Sanchez's.