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The bus to take Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow out of town is running. So the last thing Rex Ryan is going to do, whether or not that turns out to be among his last as coach of the Jets, is throw anybody underneath.
Inquiring minds want to know, "Why not Tebow now," or the better question, "Why not more Tebow all along?" But what is the point anymore? In 22 minutes Wednesday of taking responsibility — but never explaining exactly what for besides 6-8 — what else was Ryan going to say?
Should he have denigrated the performance of Sanchez, when the Jets are anxious for another team to relieve them of a piece of the financial rock over their heads? Trash the passing skills of Tebow, the quintessential good soldier, when Ryan says he never looked at the Wildcat quarterback as competition for the starter?
"He's a backup quarterback who can do other things and that's the reason we really brought him in here," said the coach, which, after two days of talking around the subject, really explained it all.
Why those other things didn't materialize remains a question Woody Johnson must have an answer to before he decides who goes and who stays. And we don't mean Tebow and Sanchez, whose tickets already are punched.
Tebow, a Wildcat quarterback for a staff that doesn't have a Wildcat commitment, is gone. Sanchez is done here as a starter and, for his sake, hopefully finished here, period. So whatever lack of logic there was in Ryan's decisions to dress which backup the last few weeks, McElroy was the logical choice to take forward into the last two games, the only way for a coach to think when his team is eliminated from playoff contention.
If McElroy shows enough to put himself in the mix for next year and the Jets save themselves from a losing season by beating highly beatable San Diego and Buffalo, then good. As long as you have to play the games, might as well win them.
But nothing that happens the next two weeks will change the fact that the Jets, who threaten to go backward in consecutive seasons, need a quarterback with which they can go forward. Whether that guy will be (a) an Alex Smith, Michael Vick or Matt Moore, (b) a draft of somebody with a bigger arm than McElroy, or (c) maybe both options combined, there has to be a better plan than the one that collapsed in 2012.
If I am Woody Johnson, I am interviewing Mike Tannenbaum about that strategy going forward before I am interviewing any GM candidates. The three biggest decisions for the Jets going into the offseason should not be quarterback, coach and general manager, but quarterback, quarterback and quarterback. Look, even the third-stringer became an issue this season.
If firing a coach and a GM whose teams went to the AFC title game in consecutive years not that long ago makes any football sense, it probably doesn't make much financial sense, not with Tannenbaum and Ryan extended to 2014, not with the Jets also on the hook for a cap-choking $8.25 million for a quarterback they don't dare put on the field anymore at Met Life Stadium. Sanchez proved too willing to eat the ball. Will the owner be as happy to eat so many contracts?
The Jets thought that for a reasonable price, they were locking up an emergent quarterback, winner of four playoff games and author of 11 fourth-quarter comebacks. Turns out they thought wrong. If, in addition, they also were not thinking clearly when they miscalculated the effect of bringing in a change-of-pace option for Sanchez, then decision No. 2 still goes back to decision No. 1.
Any quarterback spooked by the presence of a backup who has been given just one complete series in 14 games was not worthy of the big cap investment that threatens the Jets' chances to quickly retool. But the real issue was not Sanchez not being good with Tebow in his shadow. It was Sanchez not being very good. After a season charitably called inconsistent, he unequivocally proved it was time for the Jets to move on by throwing four mindless interceptions Monday night, even after being benched two weeks earlier for turning over the ball.
He is an intersection without a yellow light and it is too dangerous to proceed. The dwindling playmakers around Sanchez are no excuse for repeated throws into coverage in his Year 4 as a starter. As the quantity of blitzes has picked up, his inability to read defenses has been crippling.
Lifting him for Tebow or McElroy in Tennessee might have gotten the Jets one game closer to getting embarrassed in a wild-card game, but neither would have provided the organization's long-term answer.
Sanchez needs to get out of here, and the Jets require all vestiges of him gone. Unless Woody wants a Wishbone offense, Tebow needs to turn the corner, like he was given too few opportunities to do with a football under his arm here.
For the next two weeks, only McElroy can be about moving forward. And whether or not he proves part of the plan, there is no point now in looking back, except for the owner to understand how this mess occurred so it doesn't happen again.