(Eds: Corrects Keller's first name to Dustin in seventh paragraph. With AP Photos.)|
By JIM LITKE
AP Sports Columnist
Jets coach Rex Ryan is so competitive that he'd play Satan at quarterback if he was convinced the move would help his team win.
But for some reason, he's drawn the line at Tim Tebow.
On any other team, with any other backup waiting in the wings, there would be no quarterback controversy. The Jets are 3-6 coming off a bye week and in last place in the AFC East. They've scored a total of 16 points in their last two games, both losses, and the offense is ranked 30th out of 32 NFL teams. They can't run the ball effectively, and they're throwing it even worse. Only two quarterbacks who play regularly are rated lower than starter Mark Sanchez.
``We never brought him in to be the starting quarterback,'' Ryan said about Tebow for what seemed like the thousandth time this week. ``We never brought him in to be the starting quarterback. We already had a starting quarterback in Mark Sanchez. I thought I was clear on that from the day we brought Tim in here.''
But one thing Ryan has never clearly explained is why Tebow hasn't played more than seven or eight snaps a game, on average, even as the Jets kept sliding farther down a slippery slope.
On the one hand, it's easy to make the case that Sanchez hasn't had a fair shot. The personnel around him has changed with almost dizzying speed since his arrival in 2009 and revolving door is turning as fast as ever. His best receiver, Santonio Holmes, was lost to injury in the fourth game of the season, and his No. 2 target, tight end Dustin Keller, has been in and out of lineup with injuries for much of that time as well. Running back Shonn Greene has exactly one 100-yard rushing performance, working behind a patchwork quilt of an offensive line.
That said, the playoffs are a pipe dream and there's only so much left for the Jets to lose. If ever there was a time for Plan B, this is it. Yet Tebow sits, unable to answer the question why he isn't getting a shot, the same one that Ryan somehow manages to keep ducking. Maybe that's why a few teammates stepped into the void and said - anonymously - what Ryan is apparently thinking. A report in the Daily News on Wednesday said that more than a dozen players and members of the Jets' organization believe there's no chance Tebow could overtake Sanchez as the starter, one going so far as to say of Tebow: ``He's terrible.''
Ryan publicly ripped those unidentified detractors as ``cowardly.'' He keeps saying all the chaos and criticism that's resulted from his decision will make the Jets stronger, without explaining how. That burden has fallen, by default, to Tebow.
``I've had criticism somewhat my whole life playing football,'' Tebow said. ``You got to do your best at handling it. On one side, you try to make it motivate you. But at the same time, it always has somewhat of an effect on you. You're human. It's not always fun having people saying negative things about you, but you try to be stronger from it. It always has made me stronger in the past and it will continue to make me stronger.''
That doesn't quite answer the question, either, but it does tell us plenty about Tebow. He has said and done all the right things from the day he showed up, which is more than you can say about most of the rest of the people in the organization. If you were drawing up a list of people to shoulder the blame, you could start at the top with owner Woody Johnson and general manager Mike Tannenbaum for failing to bulk up the roster, move down to Ryan and the rest of the coaching staff for failing to develop most of the talent they've been handed, then finally down to the field, where the guys who actually the games have been underwhelming.
The strange thing about New York's Tebow obsession is now, a good eight months after it began, there's plenty of justification. But answers about why the Jets signed him, coming off an 11-5 season with a backup in place, still aren't forthcoming. It's hard to imagine that Sanchez's psyche is so fragile that he couldn't survive a turn on the bench. Or else Tebow hasn't grasped the Jets' schemes and been as unimpressive in practices as some of his anonymous critics told the newspaper.
Whatever it is, Ryan continues to keep his own counsel and vowed that at least for the foreseeable future, the rest of his team will, too.
``We never say that it always has to be a bed of roses,'' Ryan said. ``But again, put your name to it. I think people would respect you a lot more for it.''
So far, exactly one player on his team has faced all the questions, tried to answer each one and consistently put his name behind them. Fat lot of good that's done.
Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitke(at)ap.org and follow him at http://Twitter.com/JimLitke