After one of the New York Jets' most disjointed offensive efforts of the Rex Ryan era, a 17-13 loss to Denver in which the only touchdown pass Mark Sanchez threw was an interception, the coach backed his first draft pick as loudly as he could.
"I'm extremely confident -- we'll go out there and play tomorrow," Ryan said. "This is our quarterback. He's going to be our quarterback for as long as I'm here -- which I hope is a long, long time."
Tim Tebow's limitations as a quarterback in his fifth NFL start have been well noted. Yet the Jets' offense seemed just as stilted as Denver's, evidenced by a 3-3 halftime tie.
Commentators such as former Jets teammate Damien Woody even noted on ESPN Radio's "Mike & Mike in the Morning" that it's possible Sanchez has regressed this season.
"You could make an argument that he's going backwards in his third year," Woody said.
Tebow completed nine passes for 104 yards in the game, while Sanchez had 24 completions for 252 and was 11 of 11 to start the game.
Sanchez's completion average is 6.9 yards this season, up from 6.49 yards in 2010. And he is completing a higher percentage of passes (57.1 percent, from 54.8 last year).
"He can make all the throws, he's a competitive guy," Ryan said. "Has it been perfect? No, absolutely. But it hasn't been perfect for our entire team. We just have to keep getting better, and the one bad throw he makes, if we eliminate that, then all we're focused on, if we found ways to win, how he was at one point in the game 11 for 11."
Ryan is saying all of the right things in the wake of a loss that makes the playoffs a reach for the 5-5 Jets, but he has been critical of Sanchez as recently as last week. In a fit of frustration after the quarterback took an ill-considered timeout against the Patriots on Sunday, Ryan blurted out that it was the "stupidest thing in football history."
After losing that game, Ryan said, "You see the difference a great quarterback makes in this league." He wasn't talking about his own guy, but rather Tom Brady over on the other sideline.
When asked about his coach's criticism last week, Sanchez said, "If something like that's going to get under my skin, then I'm in the wrong line of work."
On Thursday, Sanchez again shouldered the blame for the loss, exhibiting an accountability that has matured faster than his game. Ryan said his quarterback didn't deserve all of the blame.
"It absolutely doesn't belong on Mark's shoulders," Ryan said. "He's just a player. He's a big piece of the puzzle, but it wasn't all on Mark Sanchez. I know he takes it. That's the kind of young man he is. He would be the first one to admit that he has to be more consistent. We need to cut down on some errors and things, as does the rest of the team, myself included and every other coach. We'll all take this collectively, but he doesn't need to put it on his shoulders."
Jane McManus is a reporter and columnist for ESPNNewYork.com.