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Jets Turn to Greg McElroy at Quarterback, Benching Mark Sanchez

Greg McElroy will start at quarterback for the New York Jets this week in place of Mark Sanchez, who was benched after committing five turnovers two days ago in a loss at Tennessee that ended the team’s chances of making the National Football League playoffs.

McElroy, 24, will be making his first NFL start on Dec. 23 when the Jets (6-8) host the San Diego Chargers.

“Where the team is now, I think it’s best for our team and for this game,” Jets coach Rex Ryan said yesterday on a media conference call. “It’s what I feel in my gut.”

The change puts into question Sanchez’s future with the Jets, who traded up to draft him with the fifth overall pick in the 2009 draft out of the University of Southern California. Sanchez received a three-year contract extension in the offseason that included $20.5 million in guaranteed money.

McElroy was a seventh-round pick in 2011 from the University of Alabama and has been the third-string quarterback for most of this season behind Sanchez and Tim Tebow. He made his NFL debut on Dec. 2 after Sanchez was benched in the third quarter, and led the Jets to a 7-6 comeback win against the Arizona Cardinals. Tebow missed that game with an injury.

“I like what I saw from Greg against Arizona and I like what I see on the practice field,” Ryan said. “I truly believe it’s what’s best for our team right now.”

Ryan said he’s unsure whether Sanchez or Tebow will be the backup against the Chargers.

“As the week goes on, I’ll make that determination,” he said. “I’m not ready to do that right now.”

Five Turnovers

Sanchez, 26, had a season-high four interceptions in Nashville, Tennessee, and lost a fumble on the Jets’ final snap, blowing any chance for a comeback that would have kept the team’s playoff hopes alive.

Ryan said he told Sanchez following the game that he’d be making a change at quarterback and that Sanchez “respected my decision.”

Sanchez leads the NFL with 24 turnovers, and now has 50 in the last two seasons. After the benching earlier this month, Ryan said he addressed the issue of turnovers with Sanchez, who has thrown 17 interceptions and lost seven fumbles.

Sanchez has 13 touchdown passes in 14 games after throwing a career-high 23 last year. He’s shouldered the bulk of the criticism for the struggles of the Jets’ offense, which is the NFL’s third-worst this season, averaging 302.1 yards a game.

No Tebow

The Jets acquired Tebow in an offseason trade with the Denver Broncos, and he has seen limited playing time this year. Tebow threw one pass in the Jets’ 14-10 loss in Tennessee while rushing for 15 yards on three carries.

Tebow’s eight pass attempts for the season are one more than McElroy, who connected on 5-of-7 throws for 29 yards and a touchdown against the Cardinals.

Ryan didn’t give a reason for choosing to start McElroy over Tebow, who last season led the Broncos to the playoffs after taking over at quarterback following a 1-4 start. He said Tebow’s recent rib injury wasn’t a factor.

“I know Tim is a tremendous competitor,” Ryan said. “I don’t doubt that at all, but for right now, I think this move is best for our team and this game. This decision is my decision. I’m choosing to go with Greg.”

Ryan sidestepped questions about whether Sanchez would ever start again for the Jets, whether in the season finale against the Buffalo Bills on Dec. 30 or next year, when he’s guaranteed $8.25 million.

In four seasons with the Jets, Sanchez has completed 55 percent of his passes for 68 touchdowns and 68 interceptions. This marks the second straight year that the team has missed the playoffs after reaching the American Football Conference championship game during Sanchez’s first two seasons.

“We have two games left, that’s where my focus is going to be,” Ryan said. “What’s past that will be determined later.”

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