Commentary

Rex on verge of his craziest decision yet

If Ryan plays his banged-up starting QB against the Bills, he's making a huge mistake

Updated: December 28, 2010, 10:33 AM ET
By Ian O'Connor | ESPNNewYork.com

Nobody needed America's funniest home videos last week to prove that Rex Ryan is a different guy, a maverick, a rebel with some undetermined cause. For two years, Ryan's outsized personality has hit the market a lot harder than any blizzard could.

No head coach or manager in New York has been this big, this bold, this boisterous. In retrospect, Ryan makes Bobby Valentine appear hopelessly insecure and shy.

But the coach of the Jets outdid himself Monday when he said something nuttier than anything he said or did between his star turn on "Hard Knocks" and his supposed Internet role as an amateur podiatrist.

Ryan said Mark Sanchez might play against the Buffalo Bills.

[+] EnlargeRex Ryan
Scott Boehm/Getty ImagesRex Ryan is undecided about who he'll start at QB next week. He shouldn't be.

Never mind that the Jets have already clinched a wild-card playoff berth, and that they will need to win three consecutive road games to reach the Super Bowl regardless of Sunday's outcome and that a victory over the 4-11 Bills might land them in a first-round shootout against Peyton Manning instead of Matt Cassel.

Ryan is concerned that a week off might cool Sanchez's hot hand. The quarterback's got his groove back, the coach maintained, so why mess with a good thing?

Why? Because the kid has a bum shoulder and a Sanchez-free offense wouldn't even be able to score on the Giants, that's why.

Mark Sanchez doesn't belong on the New Meadowlands Stadium field for the finale any more than Sal Alosi belongs on the New Meadowlands Stadium sideline. And yet there was a snowbound Ryan stuck in Chicago, losing his mind while waiting for a plane, train or automobile to return him to Jersey.

"It's kind of a fine line because [Sanchez] is hot right now," Ryan said on a conference call with reporters. "We can't afford for him to take a dip. We need him to stay at this level. Those are things we'll definitely consider."

In one breath, Ryan said he is most concerned about Sanchez's health. In another, he said he really, really, really burns to win this Buffalo game.

Ryan doesn't want to enter the tournament on a two-game losing streak -- though the defending champion New Orleans Saints finished last year on a three-game losing streak -- and he does want to secure an 11th victory, a sum the Jets have matched only three times in their history.

Do those sound like good enough reasons to risk further damage to the Jets' one irreplaceable part?

The 40-year-old backup, Mark Brunell, has completed all of 16 passes over the past four seasons. If needed to replace Sanchez in the playoffs, the dead ringer for Mark Wahlberg would take more hits than Wahlberg did in "The Fighter."

Once a dangerous multidimensional quarterback, Brunell is a diminished athlete whose appearance in the tournament would mean automatic elimination for the Jets.

Ryan simply cannot take that chance, not at the game's most critical position and not when the drop-off from starting NFL quarterback to backup represents the biggest drop-off in sports.

This isn't the 2007 Giants going all-out against 15-0 New England when they didn't have to. Those Giants were trying to derail history, and trying to send a message to the Killer B's, Belichick and Brady, on the slim chance that they would meet again in the Super Bowl. (If memory serves correctly, they did.)

There's nothing historic about these Bills, and Rex Ryan's Jets don't have to worry about seeing Chan Gailey and Ryan Fitzpatrick in the AFC Championship Game. So yes, playing Sanchez against Buffalo would make less sense than that absurd fake punt the Jets tried against the Bears.

Ryan's got enough problems to deal with; he doesn't need to add to the ever-growing pile. His defense is a shell of what it was in 2009, and when Ryan's defense is hurting his credibility as a championship-level coach is hurting, too.

There's also the matter of expectation, the unnecessary burden Ryan puts on his players with boastful forecasts of trophies and parades while bouncing from one controversy to the next.

"It's not going to matter until you get into the playoffs and you do something in the playoffs," Ryan said. "That's where we are at, that's what we're gunning for, and that's why we built this team."

To win it all. The Jets haven't played in a Super Bowl in more than 40 years, and Sanchez is their only shot to end the drought. Buffalo might be something of a joke opponent, but all it takes is one missed assignment on the offensive line, one first-quarter knockdown of Sanchez, one awkward landing on that throwing shoulder for the Jets to end up just as cooked as the Bills.

Ryan must embrace his first instinct, the position he took after the Chicago loss and before he rose Monday with his alarming little audible. Sanchez has to sit against Buffalo, all four quarters. The quarterback has to treat this final regular-season game as if it's a first-round bye.

Plenty of hot quarterbacks have rested a week and returned to win a legacy-making ring. The coach of the Jets should let his sophomore try to join that crowd.

If the unconventional Ryan doesn't make the conventional and logical choice here, he won't be the same maverick and rebel going with a just-Rex-being-Rex vibe.

No, this time around he'll be little more than a fool.

Ian O'Connor is a columnist for ESPNNewYork.com. You can follow him on Twitter.

More from ESPNNewYork.com

Ian O'Connor

ESPNNewYork.com columnist
Ian O'Connor has won numerous national awards as a sports columnist and is the author of three books, including the bestseller, "The Captain: The Journey of Derek Jeter." ESPN Radio broadcasts "The Ian O'Connor Show" every Sunday from 7 to 9 a.m. ET. Follow Ian on Twitter »

EDITORS' PICKS