For the first time, New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan finally decided to pull his struggling starting quarterback.
And it actually paid off.
Greg McElroy came in relief of Mark Sanchez in the third quarter and passed for the lone touchdown of the game to Jeff Cumberland, as the Jets escaped with a 7-6 victory over the Arizona Cardinals in an otherwise offensively challenged football game.
"Mark's a great competitor, but he understands that it was my call," said Ryan. "He's a man and nobody wants to leave the game, but I just felt it was right for our team."
Tim Tebow, the regular backup to Sanchez, was inactive for the game due to a rib injury. For the first time in his career, McElroy was active for a regular season game and took advantage of the opportunity in helping the Jets (5-7) get back on track after an embarrassing blowout loss to New England on Thanksgiving night.
McElroy completed 5-of-7 throws for 29 yards, including his 1-yard toss to Cumberland early in the fourth quarter.
Sanchez threw three first-half interceptions and threw for just 97 yards on 10-of-21 passing before being pulled, leaving his role going forward in question.
"I have no idea," said Sanchez when asked if he will be the starter next week. "I'll go prepare my butt off and be ready to play. Whatever Rex decides to do, we'll go with that."
Arizona rookie quarterback Ryan Lindley may have been worse, however, as he was constantly harassed by the Jets defense. He completed just 10-of-31 throws for 72 yards with an interception and failed to help the Cardinals (4-8) convert on a single third down. They finished 0-for-15 for the game and managed just 137 total yards of offense in suffering their eight straight defeat following a 4-0 start.
McElroy took over after Sanchez's third-down pass was batted down at the line of scrimmage, leading to New York's third consecutive three-and-out of the quarter with the Jets trailing by a 3-0 score.
He came in relief to a standing ovation from the MetLife Stadium crowd and immediately began producing results.
After Bilal Powell crossed midfield on a 17-yard rush, McElroy completed a pass to Stephen Hill on 3rd-and-6 for a first down. He then took off on a scramble and drew a late hit penalty on Dan Williams, moving the Jets to the Cardinals' 14.
Then on 3rd-and-goal, McElroy rolled to his right off play action and found a wide-open Cumberland in the end zone for the first TD pass of his career and the Jets' first score of the day, putting them ahead 7-3 early in the fourth quarter.
Former Jet Kerry Rhodes capped a very productive day by forcing a Kahlil Bell fumble on New York's next drive, however, which led to a 35-yard field goal by Jay Feely to make it a 7-6 game. Rhodes also picked off Sanchez twice in the first quarter, but still wasn't satisfied with his return to New York.
"We lost the game," said Rhodes. "I played okay, but we didn't get the win so it wasn't a good return."
Arizona failed to get a first down on its next possession -- the team's ninth three-and-out of the game -- and the Jets killed most of the remaining 7:55 of the fourth quarter with a 13-play drive to hold on for the win.
Shonn Greene, who ran for 104 yards on 24 carries, picked up a first down before falling just in front of the goal line just after the two-minute warning to allow New York to run out the remaining game clock and keep its slim playoff hopes alive.
In an absolutely brutal first half offensively for both teams, Feely kicked a 48-yard field goal through in the final seconds of the second quarter to score the first points of the game.
The Cardinals, who managed just 115 yards of offense in the first half, got in field goal range following a 40-yard run by Rashad Johnson on a fake punt. Much like last week, Lindley had no cohesion with his receivers all game, and the Cardinals went 0-for-9 on third down over the first two periods.
Sanchez was no better for New York. After his two first-quarter picks to Rhodes, Patrick Peterson made an acrobatic interception of the quarterback in the second.
The Cardinals had a chance to strike early following Rhodes' first pick, which gave them the ball deep inside New York territory. However, Arizona opted to run on every play of the short series and saw Beanie Wells get stuffed twice on both third and fourth down inside the red zone, leading to a turnover on downs.
Nick Folk missed two field goals in the opening half for the Jets. His first try from 46 yards kicked off the left upright and his second, a 52-yard attempt, had the length but veered off track and into the right upright to keep New York off the board.
New York's Dustin Keller and Joe McKnight both left the game due to injuries and did not return. Keller injured his ankle late in the first half and McKnight exited with a rib injury .... Hill led the Jets with five catches for 40 yards ... New York had the ball for almost 17 more minutes than the Cardinals, recording a time of possession total of 38:08.