Updated, 6:36 p.m. ET
Jets head coach Rex Ryan this morning named Mark Sanchez his starting quarterback for Sunday's game at Jacksonville. He met with the quarterbacks this morning before the Jets' usual Wednesday morning team meeting at the Atlantic Health Training Center.
"I just think when I looked at everything, the biggest thing I kept combing to is who gives us the best opportunity to win this week," Ryan told reporters late this morning at his Wednesday news conference. "When I kept coming back to that, I believe the correct answer is Mark Sanchez.
"Now, that being said, he has to play better, he has to protect the football better. The quarterback handles the ball on every snap. As a team we have to protect the football better than we have. Some things we're doing a really great job of right now. Something we've emphasized since the break is penalties, and we're maybe second in the league since that point. But something we have not done a good job of is protecting the football. Obviously Mark is the guy we're talking about. Mark definitely understands where I'm coming from."
Ryan didn't want to go into details on how, when and where his decision was reached, but he said he "reached out to a lot of different people," said by Tuesday night "it was clear how it was going to go," and said he told the quarterbacks in their position meeting this morning of his decision.
Sanchez started Sunday's game against Arizona, but Ryan replaced him with Greg McElroy with 4:48 left in the third quarter and the Jets trailing the Cardinals, 3-0. McElroy led the Jets on their only scoring drive of the game, which ended with a 1-yard touchdown pass to Jeff Cumberland, and got the "relief win" in the Jets' 7-6 victory. Backup Tim Tebow was inactive due to his cracked ribs.
All three QBs spoke with reporters in the locker room following this afternoon's practice. Basically they took a Three Musketeers approach. All agreed with Ryan's decision and all supported each other.
"Like I said on Sunday, I was happy for Greg, I'm thrilled for the team, and I'm pleased with Rex's decision," said Sanchez. "And now it's my job to go make them right, not just him but the rest of the guys in the locker room, and to go and compete my butt off and play like I know how, to protect the football and do it for the rest of the guys in this locker room."
Tebow said he and his broken ribs are "feeling better every day" and that he hopes and believes he can play at a high level if he's active for the game against the Jaguars in his hometown of Jacksonville. But he said he's not concerned at all about being "the forgotten man" in the Jets' QB picture.
"I'm just trying to get better each day, I'm trying to work harder, I'm trying to heal up," Tebow said. "I was happy for Greg. I'm happy that we got a win. Good for him. Greg's an awesome guy. I'm not worried about it."
McElroy might also have concerns about being overlooked in the depth chart for the Jaguars. He said there was no increase in first-team reps for him today, nothing said to him about his possible role for Sunday, but that was OK by him.
"Honestly, roles change day to day. In this game, in this sport, in this profession, you're not guaranteed anything," he said. "Obviously all you have to do is, when you're in the game, you have to do your best to try to make the most of your opportunity and do your best to help the team be as successful as they possibly could be. We did some good things on Sunday, and we were able to do enough for a win, but understand that roles are never set in stone, they can change day to day, and just whatever your role may be, embrace it and try to do whatever you possibly can to help the team."
Ryan said reporters would have to ask Sanchez about where his confidence level is now, and in fact they did. Sanchez said he was not "broken" — "No, not at all" — said of the possibility of his only pro head coach losing confidence in him by sitting him down vs. the Cards, "I think he was more or less sending a message. It's well-received. I know, I got it."
That's what Ryan is hoping, that last week's game could pay dividends for the fourth-year signalcaller, who had started 65 of the Jets' previous 66 games, including six playoff games, since his arrival as the team's first-round draft choice in 2009, with his only miss coming due to an injury in his rookie season.
"Sometimes you learn from when you're put in that situation when somebody goes in. Sometimes it's as easy as OK, you step back and you see somebody else in that role. Really, he hasn't had that before," Ryan said of Sanchez. "Sometimes you learn a great deal from that, and not just at the quarterback position. No matter who you are, how good you are, you take that step back and your view becomes clear. I believe that will be the case here."
The coach said his boss, owner Woody Johnson, did not pressure him to come to any particular decision about his quarterback.
"I'm fortunate. I have a great relationship with my owner, with Woody. We have conversations, open conversations all the time," Ryan said. "Where I'm real fortunate is that from the day Mr. Johnson hired me, he said it's 100 percent my decision on who plays and what their role is, and that's it."
Ryan said that if Sanchez were to struggle again this weekend at Jacksonville, "absolutely" he'd make a similar decision to sit him again. But he added, "I made that decision for a reason last time, but I'll say this, I think Mark's going to play well."
As for which backup would fill in if needed for any reason this weekend, Ryan reminded that Tebow hasn't played the last two games due to the ribs he injured at Seattle,
"I think we have to see what happens during the week with Tim," he said. "I know he's been cleared to play, but I don't believe he's been healthy. If it were my son, I wouldn't want him playing, that's how I look at this. But if he was completely healthy, then Tim would be our No. 2."
Yet he praised McElroy again for playing as he did against the Cards, saying that as the backup, "he took it to a higher level."
"I believe the young men we have behind Mark, I feel more comfortable about them than I did about previous quarterbacks," he said. "You've got to tip your hat to McElroy for stepping in and doing a tremendous job for us, and it did make me think about what the appropriate decision was. But again, I wanted to take my time and not just react on the fly, take my time with that decision, and I think I made the right decision."