Third-string quarterback Greg McElroy led the New York Jets to a 7-6 win against the Arizona Cardinals yesterday after Mark Sanchez was benched, while the Denver Broncos and New England Patriots both won to clinch National Football League division titles.
The Kansas City Chiefs, playing a day after police said linebacker Jovan Belcher shot his girlfriend to death and then killed himself at Arrowhead Stadium, won 27-21 at home against the Carolina Panthers (3-9) for their second win of the season.
McElroy made his NFL debut midway through the third quarter with the Jets trailing 3-0, taking over after Sanchez threw three interceptions. With backup quarterback Tim Tebow sitting out because of cracked ribs, McElroy guided the team to the go- ahead touchdown on his first drive, a 69-yard march that was capped by a 1-yard scoring pass to Jeff Cumberland.
“I just felt that at that time I needed to make a change,” Jets coach Rex Ryan said at his postgame news conference. “I’ll always do what’s in the best interest of our team to find ways to win.”
Ryan said he hasn’t decided which quarterback will start for the Jets in Week 14 at the 2-10 Jacksonville Jaguars. With a 5-7 record, the Jets would probably have to win their final four games to have any chance of making the playoffs.
“I didn’t expect it, but that doesn’t matter,” said Sanchez, who now has 13 interceptions and 12 touchdown passes this season. “It’s the coach’s call. He wants to win the game, so he’s going to do his best to do that.”
New England (9-3) clinched the American Football Conference’s East crown yesterday with a 23-16 victory at the Miami Dolphins, making Tom Brady the first starting quarterback in NFL history to win 10 division titles. Denver (9-3) wrapped up the AFC West title as Peyton Manning threw three touchdown passes in a 31-23 win against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Manning has won nine division titles, tied with Pro Football Hall of Famer Joe Montana for the second most.
The Atlanta Falcons clinched the National Football Conference’s South division title with the loss by the Buccaneers (6-6). The Falcons improved to 11-1 with a 23-13 victory against the New Orleans Saints on Nov. 29.
Houston (11-1) earned a playoff berth for the second straight season by forcing six turnovers in a 24-10 win at the Tennessee Titans. The Texans are three games ahead of the Colts (8-4), who beat the Detroit Lions 35-33 as rookie quarterback Andrew Luck threw a 14-yard touchdown pass to Donnie Avery on the game’s final play. The Colts scored two touchdowns in the final 2:47 to erase a 33-21 deficit in Detroit.
The Pittsburgh Steelers (7-5) sent Baltimore (9-3) to its first home loss of the season, winning 23-20 on Shaun Suisham’s 42-yard field goal as time expired to end the Ravens’ four-game winning streak. The Cincinnati Bengals are also 7-5 after beating the San Diego Chargers 20-13.
Seattle beat the Chicago Bears 23-17 in overtime on Russell Wilson’s 13-yard touchdown pass to Sidney Rice, the Seahawks’ second win in seven road games this season. The Dallas Cowboys sent Philadelphia to an eighth straight loss last night, outscoring the Eagles 38-33 as Tony Romo threw for 303 yards and three touchdowns.
The St. Louis Rams upset the San Francisco 49ers 16-13 on Greg Zuerlein’s 54-yard field goal with 30 seconds left in overtime. In other Week 13 games, the Buffalo Bills defeated the Jaguars 34-18, the Green Bay Packers topped the Minnesota Vikings 23-14 and the Cleveland Browns beat the Oakland Raiders 20-17.
In East Rutherford, New Jersey, the Jets had managed 159 yards of offense on their first 45 plays when Ryan opted to bench Sanchez in favor of McElroy, a seventh-round draft pick in 2011.
McElroy’s arrival was met by cheers from the crowd at MetLife Stadium and his first drive was capped by the touchdown pass to a wide-open Cumberland.
“I was excited to get a shot and go in there,” McElroy said at a news conference. “Fortunately my teammates did a fantastic job of executing.”
McElroy went 5-for-7 passing for 29 yards, while Sanchez was 10-of-21 for 97 yards and now has 18 turnovers this season. McElroy said Sanchez gave him a hug and words of encouragement before he entered the game.
“It obviously wasn’t my day,” Sanchez said. “It’s unfortunate, but I’m really happy for the team and I’m happy for Greg because he came in and played his butt off and got us a big win. He played smart and took care of the football.”
Jets running backs Shonn Greene and Bilal Powell combined to rush for 162 yards on 36 carries.
The Jets’ defense limited the Cardinals to two field goals by Jay Feely, with Arizona quarterback Ryan Lindley completing 10 of 31 passes for 72 yards and an interception. The Cardinals failed to get a first down on any of their 15 third-down plays in losing their eighth straight game.
Ryan said he’ll evaluate the Jets’ quarterback situation during the week before deciding on a starter.
“I’ll go prepare and be ready to play,” Sanchez said. “Whatever Rex decides, we’ll go with that.”
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