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Rex Ryan won't say if Mark Sanchez will start again

Rex Ryan spent most of the season defending Mark Sanchez. On Sunday, he couldn't ignore his quarterback's struggles any longer.

The New York Jets coach yanked an ineffective Sanchez midway through the third quarter against the Arizona Cardinals. With Tim Tebow injured and inactive, Greg McElroy received the first opportunity of his NFL career.

McElroy responded, leading the Jets to a go-ahead touchdown in his first possession, followed by a clock-consuming drive in the fourth quarter to close out a 7-6 win at MetLife Stadium.

"I just felt that at that time I thought I needed to make a change, and that's why I made it," Ryan explained. "I'll always do what I think in the best interest of the team and trying to find ways to win. At that time, I thought it was time to make a change."

The win keeps the 5-7 Jets' slim playoff hopes alive, but this game will be remembered for the possible end of the Sanchez era in New York. The fourth-year starter completed just 10 of 21 passes for 97 yards with three interceptions before being pulled, drawing loud cheers from a sparse but frustrated crowd. The Jets didn't score with Sanchez under center, though Nick Folk missed two first-half field-goal attempts.

McElroy took over and promptly led the Jets on a 10-play, 53-yard drive punctuated by his 1-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jeff Cumberland. McElroy celebrated with teammates in the end zone, then called for the ball, which already had been tossed into the stands. It was thrown back to him, a keepsake for the young quarterback.

Let's not get it twisted: McElroy didn't power the Jets to victory here. He finished 5-of-7 passing for 29 yards as the Jets leaned hard on a running game that finished with 177 yards. But there's no denying that McElroy provided a spark that was absent under Sanchez.

Which all leads to the obvious question: Will McElroy start next week against the Jacksonville Jaguars?

"I'll let you guys know who's going to be the quarterback when I'm ready to," Ryan said, "but right now we'll look at our situation and evaluate it as the week goes on."

It was a predictable answer, but one Ryan had to give out of respect to the quarterback who once helped him reach back-to-back AFC Championship Games. ESPN New York reported that Ryan had his arm around Sanchez at his locker after the game.

The coach and quarterback have been through a lot, but everything might be about to change.

Follow Dan Hanzus on Twitter @DanHanzus.

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