Published November 20, 2014
Now that the finish line on a debacle of a season is in sight, it seems the New York state of mind for a handful of individuals might be just about done, too.
In fact, the conversation surrounding the New York Jets on the eve of a schedule-closing trip to Buffalo hasn't at all focused on the Bills. Instead, it's revolved around whether quarterbacks Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow -- along with embattled coach Rex Ryan -- will be taking their last official trips in green and white.
Ryan, who arrived in 2009 with Super Bowl guarantees and established early street cred with consecutive AFC Championship Game appearances, has seen his aura diminish after a dissension-sopped 8-8 finish to 2011 and a circus-like 2012 that's yielded only six wins in 15 games.
In fact, since the Jets started last season at 8-5, they are just 6-12.
The most recent loss came last week against visiting San Diego in a game preceded by the elevation of third-string quarterback Greg McElroy to starter, leaving the aforementioned Sanchez and Tebow in limbo heading toward 2013.
Both are under contract with the Jets for next season, but neither is a lock to return. Tebow is expected to be gone shortly after Sunday's finale -- via release or trade -- after a season in which his anticipated deployment in the team's Wildcat offensive package never materialized.
Multiple reports indicated he begged out of the game plan against the Chargers after hearing he'd not be the one to replace Sanchez, but the former University of Florida star -- who's thrown eight passes and run the ball 32 times as a Jet -- disputed that version this week.
"I never said, 'Hey, I don't want to do anything or I won't do anything,'" Tebow said. "That wasn't the talk at all. (Coach Ryan) knows that, and everybody on this team knows that. I'd never not do something if I was asked, and I think that's what's disappointing about the whole situation, people saying, 'You quit,' or, 'You didn't do this.' It was not it at all."
Ryan was lukewarm is his own denials, which came on the heels of his decision to bench Sanchez after the former fifth overall draft pick threw four interceptions and fumbled once in a Monday night loss to Tennessee that officially eliminated New York from playoff contention.
McElroy, a seventh-round draft choice in 2011, made his starting debut against the Chargers and was under constant duress. He was sacked 11 times -- the most the Jets allowed since replacement player David Norris was dropped 11 times by the Dallas Cowboys during the 1987 players strike.
While standing, McElroy completed 14-of-24 passes, was intercepted once and fumbled once. He also sustained a minor abdominal injury, but was not held out of any subsequent practices.
"It's a little sore, but that's to be expected," he said. "It's to be expected having played my first full game in a few years. It's nothing out of the ordinary."
That all changed on Thursday when Ryan reversed course again, revealing McElroy has a concussion and inserting Sanchez as the starter one more time.
Meanwhile, speaking of imminent departures, the Bills may have a few of their own.
Third-year coach Chan Gailey's status is tenuous at best at the tail end of the franchise's fourth straight season with at least 10 losses. The Gainesville, Ga. native lasted two seasons in his previous NFL head coaching job, going 18-14 with Dallas in 1998-99.
He's 15-32 with the Bills after going 4-12 and 6-10 in his first two seasons, and is under contract for one more year. Buffalo lost, 24-10, last weekend in Miami.
"I'm not into (discussing my situation) right now," Gailey said. "I'm into let's beat the Jets and finish this thing the way it needs to be finished."
Also in question is the long-term tenure of quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who won just once after a 5-2 start last season and has continued inconsistently in 2012. Buffalo has just 13 touchdowns on offense in its last eight games, during which the QB has thrown seven interceptions to eight TDs.
The Bills' front office has not been shy about expressing a desire to draft a quarterback in April.
"I'd be lying if I said it didn't wear on me a little bit," Fitzpatrick said. "We haven't met (our goals). And I haven't met them. And so it's been disappointing, but that stuff doesn't affect the way that I play on Sunday."
He'll be without favorite target Scott Chandler this week after the tight end -- whose six TD catches share the team lead -- injured a knee ligament last week and was placed on injured reserve. That ups the ante on running back C.J. Spiller, who'll face a New York defense likely to be missing tackle Muhammad Wilkerson (concussion).
Spiller, who split time with Fred Jackson earlier in the season, has 241 yards, a touchdown and a 6.2-yard average per carry since Jackson was shelved earlier this month.
The Bills hold a 53-50 edge in the all-time series, but the Jets have won six straight and eight of the last nine, including a 20-point rout in the 2012 season-opener in New Jersey. Buffalo's Gailey is winless in six career games against the Jets, while Ryan has won six of seven against Buffalo since arriving in 2009.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
If the Jets had questions heading into last week about what McElroy could do at the helm, they probably still have them this week after he was constantly harassed against San Diego.
In order to keep him vertical a little more often, it would figure that offensive coordinator Tony Sparano's approach would trend toward ground-heavy against a team that's been the league's worst at defending the run, allowing 146.7 yards per week through 15 games.
The Jets, to say the least, are in disarray. And a road trip to a snow-belted foe for a meaningless Week 17 game doesn't figure to enhance the emotions of a beaten-down team. With that the case, it'd make more sense to assume Spiller will get his yards and the Bills defense will do enough to keep McElroy and Co. from making another mockery of the scoreboard.
Sports Network predicted outcome: Bills 20, Jets 14