CORTLAND, N.Y. -- The New York Jets' quarterback competition has reached the homestretch. Or maybe not.
An evasive Rex Ryan declined Tuesday to name his starter for Saturday night against the Jacksonville Jaguars, leaving open the possibility he may let the Mark Sanchez-Geno Smith battle continue for a week longer than many expected.
It would make sense to anoint the Week 1 starter before the third preseason game, giving him the opportunity to play almost a full game with the rest of the first-team offense. But Ryan, who never plays his starters in the final tune-up, said he's not opposed to waiting until after the third game.
"We never put a timetable on it," he said. "It's not set in stone that it's an absolute must, that is has to happen. We still might be in the evaluation stage for all of the positions."
The Jets had been hoping it would be a clear-cut choice, but it hasn't turned out that way. Sanchez was starting to create some separation on the practice field, but he threw a horrific interception for a touchdown on the first series in last Friday night's opener -- reminiscent of so many of his 26 turnovers from last season.
"We've got to fix that," Ryan said. "It can't happen again, there's no doubt."
The interception overshadowed an otherwise solid outing by Sanchez, who has received the majority of first-team reps in practice the last two days. Ryan's decision for this week could be complicated by Smith's right ankle, mildly sprained in the opener. The rookie has limped through the last three practices, although he was noticeably better on Tuesday. The Jets still have two practices before facing the Jaguars at MetLife Stadium.
If it's truly an open competition, the fair move would be to give Smith the start this week. But Ryan is playing it coy, perhaps because of the ankle.
"Is it a factor? Certainly it's a factor," he said. "Is it the primary one? I don't know. A lot of factors go into it. Let's get to where we feel good about the decision and it's a complete decision."
Because of the injury, Smith was limited to only 14 snaps against the Detroit Lions, completing six of seven passes for 47 yards. Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg acknowledged "it wasn't much of an evaluation." Mornhinweg said he was experimenting with different things, restricting Smith in one particular series.
Like Ryan, Mornhinweg was evasive on the entire quarterback situation, adding a layer of mystery.
"There are a lot of variables, some depending on health, some depending on how we're practicing and some depending on the big-picture plan we tentatively set up before camp," Mornhinweg said.
Mornhinweg said Smith was "playing very well" in camp before his ankle injury, adding that Sanchez has performed at "a pretty high level ... fairly consistently." The interception, which came on a screen pass, "backfired on him -- badly."
Make no mistake, Sanchez hurt his chances with that unforgivable mistake. Privately, the organization hopes Smith -- a second-round pick -- can jump up and grab the job. But there has been a noticeably dip in his play over the past week.
"Did he have a couple of rough days? Absolutely," Ryan said. "But everybody's had some rough days."
Including Sanchez. At some point, the Jets have to pick one of them to be their quarterback.