For two and a half quarters it was the same old Jets’ story: punchless offense (at quarterback in particular) saved by a strong defense, while impatient fans voiced their displeasure.
But mid-way through the third quarter, with the Jets trailing 3–0, that all changed.
In a nearly unprecedented move for Rex Ryan, the coach pulled the incumbent Mark Sanchez for former seventh-round pick Greg McElroy—much to the roaring delight of the more than 79,000 in attendance—propelling the Jets (5–7) to an ugly 7–6 win over Arizona (4–8) Sunday afternoon in East Rutherford.
Sanchez had been the first-string quarterback for the Jets since the beginning of his rookie season in 2009.
“At that time I thought I needed to make a change, and that’s why I made it,” said Ryan, according to the team’s website. “Mark’s a great competitor, but he understood that it was my call.”
The long-embattled Sanchez, who entered the game 30th out of 34 qualifiers with a quarterback rating of 75.6, started the Jets off with an interception on their first play from scrimmage, and the game continued downhill from there for him. Sanchez would add two more picks and was just 10/21 for 97 yards while being booed continually, as the Jets continued to scuffle on offense, before Ryan mercifully lifted him for the third-string McElroy with 4:48 left in the third.
The game changed from there.
With the stadium suddenly alive, McElroy led the offense on a 10-play, 66-yard drive ending in the end zone for their only score of the day. McElroy, chosen 208th overall by the Jets in 2011, finished the drive with a one-yard touchdown pass—his first ever in the NFL—to tight end Jeff Cumberland to put the Jets up 7–3 with 14:55 left in the game.
‘Mark’s a great competitor, but he understood that it was my call.’—Rex Ryan.
It would be all the Jets’ defense would need.
Rex Ryan’s crew limited Arizona to just 137 total yards for the game, and the Cardinals were an incredible zero-for-15 on third downs. Quarterback Ryan Lindley, making just his second career start for the injured Kevin Kolb, might have had an even worse day than the demoted-Sanchez, going 10/31 passing for 72 yards and an interception.
“I was really proud of everybody’s efforts—especially our defense,” said Ryan. “A 137 total yards for the game, and I think 40 of it on that fake punt.”
After forcing another three-and-out, the Jets got the ball back but turned it over when running back Kahlil Bell had it knocked from him by safety Kerry Rhodes at the Jets’ 38. The Jets were able to hold Arizona to another field goal, and after the teams traded punts, McElroy led them on a 14-play, 71-yard drive, ending at the one-yard line, to finish the game.
McElroy finished 5/7 passing for 29 yards and a touchdown. Whether he’ll start next week has yet to be determined. “I’ll let you guys know who’s going to be the quarterback when I’m ready to,” said Ryan. “We’ll look at our situation and evaluate it as the week goes on.”
The Jets’ offense was not only spurred by a change at quarterback, but they were also able to run the ball on Arizona. Shonn Greene finished with 104 yards on 24 carries and actually could have had a touchdown on the final drive to seal the game, but opted to take a knee at the one instead. McElroy then took a knee on each of the next two plays to secure the win.
The Jets, which are two games out of the final playoff spot with four games left, next face the Jaguars next Sunday in Jacksonville.
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