Jets take circus to Jacksonville

Maybe the New York Jets really are a circus after all.

Following months of outside opinion and weeks of progressively more subpar play from starter Mark Sanchez, coach Rex Ryan finally made the quarterback change that fans, pundits and late-night comics had simultaneously been pining for.

He handed the ball to ... Greg McElroy?

And a week later, after the former seventh-round draft pick led the Jets to a decisive touchdown on his first drive with the first offense, a progressively more embattled Ryan -- heading into a winnable road game at Jacksonville -- has handed the ball back to ... Mark Sanchez?

Gentlemen, start your conjecture.

"When I looked at everything, the biggest thing I kept coming back to is: Who gives us the best opportunity to win?" Ryan said. "When I kept coming back to that, I believed the correct answer was Mark Sanchez."

With that the case, the 5-7 Jets -- tied for last in the AFC East, incidentally -- will arrive at EverBank Field Sunday to take on the Jacksonville Jaguars behind a signal-caller whose passer rating (71.4) and completion percentage (55.0) are last among the league's starters.

New York's average of 193.8 passing yards per week is 28th in the league and its total yardage clip of 308.9 is 29th.

Sanchez completed 10-of-21 passes and threw three interceptions on the first five possessions last week against visiting Arizona, forcing Ryan to turn to McElroy, who came in and hit tight end Jeff Cumberland to cap off the crucial scoring march in a 7-6 New York victory.

McElroy leapfrogged the league's most discussed second-stringer, Jacksonville native Tim Tebow, to get in, but it's unclear whether he's now the go-to No. 2 ahead of the ballyhooed offseason acquisition who was inactive last week with two cracked ribs.

Either way, the youngster sounded Tebow-esque while accepting the week's demotion.

"You're not guaranteed anything, not at all," McElroy said. "You do your best to make the most of your opportunity and do your best to help the team."

Sanchez, meanwhile, came across as melancholy.

"I'm just disappointed because I let a lot of people down," he said. "You let a lot of teammates down when you play like that. That never feels good. It's just not the way I prepare, not with the skill set I've been blessed to have."

He faces a Jaguars team that's 28th in the league defending the pass while giving up 260.9 yards per week. Ironically, Jacksonville allowed just 112 yards through the air last week against Buffalo, but was bludgeoned for 232 on the ground in a 34-18 loss.

The Jaguars are second-to-last against the run with a 144 yards-per-game average. New York ran for 177 against Arizona, led by Shonn Greene's 104 on 24 rushes.

"I had a gut feeling it would be Mark Sanchez," coach Mike Mularkey said. "Why is that? I don't know, but I just felt like it was going to be. Our plan isn't going to be altered by whoever it was going to be."

On its own offense, Jacksonville is down to option No. 4 for running the ball after the latest in a spate of injuries. Already without Maurice Jones-Drew and Jalen Parmele, the Jaguars saw Rashad Jennings go down against the Bills with a concussion, leaving fullback Montell Owens next in line.

Owens is a two-time Pro Bowler on special teams and he gained 29 yards on seven carries in fill-in duty against Buffalo.

"It's just a chance to showcase yourself in a way that you haven't been accustomed to," he said. "I'm grateful for the opportunity."

Jacksonville is last in the NFL with 78.8 rush yards per game.

"It's not the ideal situation, but I think you've got to make an attempt to try to keep it balanced," Mularkey said. "I trust Montell Owens. When he had chances to carry the ball, I thought 'Wow, this guy. I knew he was a good football player, but this guy is a decent back.'"

Quarterback Chad Henne, who's now filling in for injured starter Blaine Gabbert, won three of four meetings with Sanchez and the Jets during his days with the Miami Dolphins -- throwing six touchdowns to one interception and compiling a 94.2 passer rating.

The Jaguars lead the all-time series, 6-3, and have won three of the last five games. In the last Jacksonville meeting, they won, 41-0, behind 111 yards from veteran running back Fred Taylor and a pair of touchdowns by then-rookie Jones-Drew.


Because of the aforementioned insertion of a fourth-string runner into the starting scheme, the Jaguars are clearly not going to rely on carrying the ball to reach their offensive Valhalla.

That said, the Jets are by no means the defensive stalwarts they were on the way to AFC title games in Ryan's initial two seasons.

In the absence of a workhorse like Jones-Drew, expect offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski to mix in tight end Marcedes Lewis as a short passing option, which could tighten up a Jets defense not likely to be giving a lot of respect to Owens. Lewis caught four balls for 68 yards against Buffalo -- a 17-yard average per reception -- and has multiple catches in 10 of 12 games this season.


It hasn't gotten so bad that the Jets aren't a lock to beat a two-win team, has it?

Yes Virginia, it appears that it has. If Sanchez's mental state was a concern simply because a capable backup was brought in for training camp, it'll be interesting to see where it lies after the first in-game benching of his four- year career. Meanwhile, Henne has seemed just capable enough since Gabbert's injury -- and against the Jets throughout his career -- to spring a home-field surprise.

Sports Network predicted outcome: Jaguars 17, Jets 14