Published November 20, 2014
Tim Tebow won't start on Sunday. And based on recent history, he probably won't be the decisive factor in whether the New York Jets win or lose in St. Louis.
But as has been the case nearly every day since a trade with the Denver Broncos, he remains the top story in the green-clad football circus.
In the midst of a three-game losing streak that's forged new performance lows since Rex Ryan's tenure began in 2009, the Jets' locker room has apparently devolved toward the same fractured mess that helped propel the plummet from 8-5 contender to 8-8 playoff miss just a year ago.
A handful of anonymous players were quoted in a Wednesday story in the New York Daily News indicating a complete lack of faith in Tebow's prowess, with one player labeling him "terrible."
This all unfolds -- or unravels, if you prefer -- while starter Mark Sanchez has had myriad on-field struggles of his own, posting a league-worst 52.0 completion percentage through nine games. He's coming off a woeful 9-for-22, 124-yard performance in a 21-point loss last week at Seattle.
His 70.9 passer rating is 30th in the NFL.
"I have got to make better decisions," he said. "Careless mistakes. Totally on me."
Ryan, however, has shown no significant inclination toward making a QB change.
"With me, I will never waver," Ryan said.
"I am not going to make a decision to save my job. I am in it to win games. I'm not sitting back concentrating on how do I save my job. I am concentrating on how do we win."
Still, while the loyalty to Sanchez has player support according to the newspaper, the coach is concerned with the acerbic way that support is being broadcast.
He said the situation comprised the content of a team meeting this week.
"If you're not going to put your name to it, I think that's about as cowardly of a thing there is," Ryan said. "I don't want to get into specifics of what I said, but I did address it with our football team. If you're searching for things to try to drive a wedge through the team, my thing is, I believe in this team. I believe this team is (together), will continue to be and maybe even become tighter. I'm confident that will be the case."
Running back Shonn Greene was the most vocal Tebow supporter, saying "His mechanics, his throwing, (they don't look) like a normal NFL quarterback. But you know what? He's a football player. He makes stuff happen.
"Something's got to change. When you get to the point where you're 3-6, and losing and losing, a couple of guys are like, 'Oh, what would happen?' But guys at the same time have faith in Mark, so it's kind of an up-and-down thing."
The quarterbacks, at least when microphones are close by, remain aligned.
"I always find the good and the positive in every situation," Tebow said. "The positive of this is to go and work a little harder and build better relationships with your teammates."
"I've been in those shoes," he said. "I feel for Tim. You wake up the next day and you keep playing."
The Rams, meanwhile, come off one of their most inspired efforts of the season, a duel with NFC West kingpin San Francisco that ended in an NFL rarity -- a 24-24 tie.
And the deadlock came only after St. Louis lost a 10-point second-half lead.
"You know, we can be proud of the way we gave the effort," defensive end Chris Long said, "and like I said we went toe-to-toe with a team we have great respect for."
Quarterback Sam Bradford completed 26 of 39 passes for 275 yards and two touchdowns. He's completed 66.9 percent over the last four games.
Additionally, an overtime throw to Danny Amendola against the Niners might have set up a decisive touchdown, but it was negated by a penalty. Amendola had 11 catches for 102 yards after missing three games with injury.
"I think our offense as a whole has really made a lot of strides in the past couple weeks," Bradford said. "I think last week was evidence of what we're capable of when we don't shoot ourselves in the foot. We still made mistakes but for the most part I think that was our most complete game as an offense. We put up a lot of yards and a fair amount of points against a really good defense."
The Jets are No. 6 in the NFL with just 203.8 passing yards allowed per game, but they're third from last among the 32 teams with a weekly opposition rushing clip of 145 yards -- a number that was boosted last week when Seattle's Marshawn Lynch and others rumbled for 174 yards.
Against San Francisco, St. Louis's Steven Jackson had season-bests of 101 yards on 29 carries.
The Rams have won nine of 12 all-time games between the teams and seven of the last eight, but New York was a 47-3 winner in the most recent game in November 2008 -- behind starting quarterback Brett Favre and coach Eric Mangini.
Ryan has never faced St. Louis. Rams coach Jeff Fisher is 4-5 in nine career meetings with New York.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
For the Rams, a great way to add to an already nose-diving Jets offense would be to ratchet up the pressure on a struggling Sanchez.
St. Louis is near the middle of the pack -- 13th of 32 -- with 228.7 pass yards allowed per game, but its 26 sacks are tied for sixth and a young, aggressive defensive line might be ripe for more against a New York offensive line that's excellent in spots and suspect in others. St. Louis had five sacks last week against San Francisco.
For the Jets, each week of the losing streak brings another referendum on Ryan. The loss to the Patriots was allowable to many, but the subsequent home blowout by the Dolphins and a post-bye flameout against the Seahawks makes it appear that his messages simply aren't getting through once adversity arrives.
The Rams game, at the start of the season, was marked as a likely win. But with the way things have gone since, it looks no better than a 50/50 proposition. In that case, the tie goes to the host.
Sports Network predicted outcome: Rams 17, Jets 16