EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The New York Jets have a serious quarterback problem.
Rookie quarterback Geno Smith squandered an opportunity to claim the starting job, throwing three interceptions against the New York Giants Saturday night at MetLife Stadium. Smith's mistake-filled performance opened the door for Mark Sanchez to be named the opening-day starter -- but that could depend on Sanchez's health.
After replacing Smith in the fourth quarter, Sanchez hurt his right shoulder on a hit by Marvin Austin. Sanchez, in significant pain, left the game immediately. Trainers applied ice to his throwing shoulder and he was taken to the locker room for an X-ray.
Sanchez, who finished 5 of 6 for 72 yards, will have an MRI exam on his shoulder, according to a source. Coach Rex Ryan said he didn't know the severity of the injury.
"Unfortunately, the best play that he makes, probably all of preseason, he ends up getting hurt on it," Ryan said of Sanchez, who eluded two onrushing Giants to make a pass before being leveled by Austin. "We'll see the severity of the injury later."
Sanchez was said to be experiencing significant soreness, a source said.
Sanchez dealt with a shoulder issue during the 2011 season and almost needed offseason surgery. Doctors prescribed a rehab program.
He exited the stadium before speaking with reporters, leaving the street clothes he arrived in in his locker.
Sanchez appeared to be surprised when he was told to enter the game in the fourth quarter. He warmed up quickly and rushed on the field. Ryan announced Thursday that his plan was to play Sanchez, but it's possible the plan changed. Sanchez entered the game thinking he wasn't going to play, a source said.
"That was my decision. That's my decision all the way," Ryan said of inserting Sanchez into the game.
Ryan will be second-guessed for playing Sanchez behind a second-team offensive line, which allowed him to get hit several times. During his postgame news conference, Ryan was asked if the decision was irresponsible.
"We talked about the [quarterback] competition, and that was something that I felt was important," Ryan said. "If it wasn't important, then I wouldn't have put him in there. I would not have put Mark in if it wasn't important."
Ryan became defensive when pressed on the starting quarterback for Week 1, at one point saying, "I can say anything I want, that's the beauty of this country."
The Jets let Smith start the third preseason game with the hope he'd show enough savvy to warrant a quarterback change, but he came unglued after a nice start.
Smith completed 16-of-30 passes for 199 yards, including a 22-yard touchdown pass to Ben Obomanu that gave the Jets a 7-0 lead. Smith's worst moment came in the fourth quarter, when he took a safety by stepping out of the end zone while trying to avoid pressure.
The Giants took a 15-14 lead. Smith played into the fourth quarter before yielding to Sanchez, who actually was booed by the Giants' home crowd. Sanchez fumbled a shotgun snap on his first possession -- triggering another chorus of boos.
Clearly, the Jets have quarterback issues. General manager John Idzik drafted Smith in the second round, thinking he'd show enough to unseat the turnover-prone Sanchez.
The competition was extended a week because Smith missed the second game with a sprained ankle. He's still not 100 percent, but he can't use the ankle as an excuse for his many mistakes.
Smith was intercepted by Prince Amukamara, Stevie Brown and Justin Tuck in a span of 12 passes. The latter occurred on a zone blitz, with Tuck dropping into coverage on tight end Jeff Cumberland. Smith never saw him and made a rookie mistake.