By Ernie Palladino
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Turns out the worst thing to happen to Mark Sanchez was Tim Tebow's cracked ribs.
Had Tebow been healthy, it might have been him replacing Sanchez with 4:48 left in the third quarter of an absolutely horrendous, 7-6 win over the Arizona Cardinals. Then, Sanchez's Jets career would have been safe because, let's face it, the only Jet for whom Rex Ryan holds less regard than Sanchez is Tebow.
Instead, Greg McElroy was standing there, all fresh-faced and eager, and chomping at the bit for a chance.
So Ryan made the change. Whether he knows it or not, or wants to admit it or not, he has changed the course of Jets history.
Mark Sanchez is done. That era is over, and all of Ryan's locker room hugs and words of consolation to the deposed starter won't change that.
No matter what happens the rest of the season, regardless of whether Sanchez resumes his starting duties next week, Ryan made the decision at 4:48 of the third quarter that Sanchez no longer represents the Jets' best chance to win.
When that happens to a veteran quarterback, he's finished.
Keep in mind that aside from a first-possession drive that was helped by a 15-yard unnecessary roughness call on McElroy's scramble, the second-year quarterback didn't really do much of anything special. He did throw his first career touchdown pass to Jeff Cumberland, which was nice. And a slumbering offense did seem energized when the former Alabama quarterback came in.
Other than that and the final drive he kneeled out at the goal line, he left no one believing they've seen the next Tom Brady.
But his efforts were good enough, and that's probably all Ryan needed to see. It just shows how much the coach has thought of Sanchez. In a game where Arizona could not move the ball behind rookie third-string quarterback Ryan Lindley, who had no idea what he was looking at, Ryan thought it best to go with a second-year kid taking his first NFL snap, and he won the game for them.
Make no mistake about this, either; had Tebow been active and able, it never would have happened. Sanchez would still have been in there, still throwing interceptions and near interceptions, and probably would have lost. Sanchez would have finished the game, probably the season, and people would still be muttering about when Rex was finally going to pull the trigger on this guy.
But it was McElroy that Ryan found the end of Sanchez' rope this time. The decision wasn't all that hard.
It has long been a rule of thumb that a veteran quarterback is not an interchangeable entity, especially with one of lesser experience. Those decisions are never made lightly, and when they are they are made with the understanding that the coach has made a signal shift. Jim Harbaugh has done exactly that in San Francisco, where Colin Kaepernick has supplanted Alex Smith.
Smith might just look good in a Jets uniform next season.
That's the future, however. For now, all we have is a lukewarm decision on Sanchez's immediate situation from Ryan.
"We'll address that going forward," Ryan told the post-game press conference.
Not much of an endorsement at all. Then again, he's made his decision, whether he wants to admit it or not.
Sanchez is no longer his guy, if he ever really was. There's a big difference between having unconditional faith in a player and using him just because there is no other viable option. Sanchez only lasted this long because, well, the alternative was Tebow. And that was really no option at all.
Regardless of what happens the rest of the season, Jets fans have seen the end of the Mark Sanchez era.
As for the franchise as a whole, it just beat a team on an eight-game losing streak by a point. The Jets won't be clocking any postseason miles this year.
Sanchez, on the other hand, might be traveling far, far away in a couple of months.
Is Sanchez done in New York? Be heard in the comments below...
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