Fireman Ed Anzalone knew what he was doing. When the 53-year-old, square-jawed retired firefighter hung up his New York Jets white fire helmet and his green No. 6 Mark Sanchez official New York Jets game jersey and silenced his long-running J-E-T-S shout-out after his team's embarrassing 49-19 loss to the New England Patriots on Thanksgiving night, he cited the verbal abuse that he had received from other New York Jets fans as the main reason. They were angry at the No. 6 jersey, Ed said, angry at Sanchez, angry at Ed. There were confrontations, too many confrontations.
"The stadium has become divided because of the quarterback controversy," the long-time No. 1 Jets fan said in a guest column in Metro New York, a free newspaper distributed at subway stops. "The fact that I chose to wear a Mark Sanchez jersey this year, and that fans think I am on the payroll - which is an outright lie -- have made these confrontations more frequent. Whether it's in the stands, the bathroom or the parking lot, these confrontations are happening on a regular basis."
Turns out he left just in time.
The confrontation that was fairly simple after that Thanksgiving loss -- Sanchez or Mr. Tim Tebow, choose one, no different from Barack or Mitt, Pepsi or Coke, Kourtney or Khloe -- has become a three-headed monster. (Barack or Mitt or, oh, Ron Paul? Pepsi, Coke or Red Bull? Kourtney or Khloe or Bruce Jenner?) With the addition of young Greg McElroy to the mix after he came off the Jets bench to hit a scintillating five of seven passes for 27 yards and the game's sole touchdown in a 7-6 thrashing of the Arizona Cardinals last week at MetLife Stadium, this has become the grandest quarterback battle on the NFL topographical map.
Since Sanchez has been voted unanimously off the island by the fan base, since Tebow still is or is not dealing with two fractured ribs, McElroy has become the hope. The former Alabama quarterback, good Jets bloodlines right there, drafted in the seventh round in 2011, is the None of the Above alternative. He is, after all, unbeaten as a professional. The Sunday game was his first NFL action during an actual regular season.
"There are a lot of decisions you make as a coach that are tough decisions," Jets coach Rex Ryan said in his Monday press conference as he danced around actually picking one of his three candidates for the next start, describing the process instead. (On Wednesday, Ryan chose Sanchez for Week 14.) " If you always put the three priorities first -- the team, the team and the team … the decision is sometimes easier. You have to take personal feelings outside of it because it's bigger than just me."
Does he listen to the fans? Does he stick with the quarterback who was supposed to be the face of the franchise? Does he bring in the under-utilized Tebow, who did some good things last year in Denver?
Ryan is not alone in making quarterback decisions for the last four games of the season. Andy Reid in Philadelphia made one this week, installing former backup Nick Foles, a rookie from Arizona, as the Eagles' full-time, all-the-time quarterback. Foles will continue to replace injured starter Michael Vick even if Vick returns to good health. He cemented his chance for this full-time duty with a 22-for-34 passing performance for 251 yards on Sunday night against the Dallas Cowboys. This was a 38-33 loss to the Cowboys, but the 3-9 Eagles have been familiar with losses this season.
"I think where we're at right now in the season, that gives this kid an opportunity to play and finish it up," Reid said. "No. 1, I just think he's playing well enough to where I think he can win football games for us, and, No. 2, I think where we sit at this position in the season, I think it's the right thing to do."
In other quarterback controversies, Colin Kaepernick has been handed the reins over Alex Smith for another week with the San Francisco 49ers despite a 16-13 overtime loss to the St. Louis Rams. ("There were some real positives to take away from his performance," coach Jim Harbaugh said.) Brady Quinn will keep the job in Kansas City over Matt Cassel after his best work as a professional in that 27-21 emotional win over the Carolina Panthers.
The Cardinals' Ryan Lindley, who had a terrible afternoon against the Jets, 10 of 31 for 72 yards, nine three-and-outs, zero-for-15 on third-down conversions, still has a chance to start again this week against Seattle. This is because he replaced John Skelton, who replaced injured starter Kevin Kolb, and after winning the first four games of the season, the Cards have now lost eight straight. Skelton said he is ready if another change is made. Or not.
"Whatever the coach feels is the best direction to take the team is fine," the quarterback said. "I don't think he's throwing arrows and then drawing a target around it. I think he's got his reasons behind everything he's doing, so all you can do is prepare and see what happens."
And so it goes.
New replaces Old. None of the Above trumps both. This is a dance that happens right around this time of year with teams in trouble. Hopes have been extinguished. Plans have to be altered. The installation of the new quarterback is a final rub on that dusty magic lamp. Maybe something good will happen. Maybe there will be a better look toward the future. Maybe. Maybe.
This week the 5-7 Jets limp down to Jacksonville to play the 2-10 Jaguars. McElroy or Sanchez or Tebow will play or not play. Chances are good that whoever starts will not be who finishes. If it is any consolation, the team on the other side of the field will be in much the same position. Chad Henne has started the last two games, but faded against Buffalo last week, and Blaine Gabbert was the starter before that and, well, you know the situation.
Tell 'em about it, Fireman Ed.