by Kristian Dyer, Special for USA TODAY Sports
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - We're talking about the New York Jets, so just when the team seemed to finally settle its too-close-to-call quarterback battle, something crazy had to happen.
Of course, it might have helped had the head coach not tempted fate.
After rookie Geno Smith proved he wasn't ready to take the job -- by throwing three interceptions and stepping out of the end zone in a panic for a safety -- incumbent Mark Sanchez was inserted into Saturday night's preseason game against the New York Giants in the fourth quarter as the starter by default ... and promptly was injured.
With the quarterback situation seemingly settled, why did the Jets risk Sanchez?
Why did head coach Rex Ryan play his possible starting quarterback in the fourth quarter, in a meaningless preseason game -- lined up behind scrubs, to boot?
He really had no answer for the kind of questionable move that could torpedo a season -- and get a coach fired.
"It was very unfortunate that Mark was injured," Ryan said. "When we had a chance to put Mark in, I wanted to play Mark. It's my decision. We're going to compete (to win) and watch that (quarterback) competition.
"I understand being second-guessed when an injury happens, but that's football."
No, that's poor coaching.
After the game, Ryan said he didn't know the severity of Sanchez's injury. And the Jets said Sanchez had left the stadium -- probably for an MRI -- with his clothes still hanging in his locker.
Sanchez was hit hard by Giants defensive lineman Marvin Austin and crumpled to the ground. Taken out of the game, he tried to throw several passes on the sidelines before telling trainers he was unable to continue, and he eventually walked off the field -- his throwing shoulder wrapped in ice -- for X-rays.
Even Austin, fighting for a roster spot, said he was surprised Sanchez was in the game, a sitting duck for a hit from him at 6-2, 312 pounds.
"He's their starter, so I was a little surprised," Austin said. "But I just looked at it like I had to go out there and get him. I have to go out there and perform, and show them I can play in this league and what better way to do it than against the Jets quarterback?"
So, maybe after Sanchez had won the job by default, Smith now has.
Only with the Jets -- a team that has been a on-field and off-field circus for the past three seasons -- could a guy (Smith) have the job, lose it, and win it back -- all in one night ... thanks to an indefensible goof by a coach who probably didn't want to start him, anyway.
It's logical Ryan wants Sanchez to win the competition, because the veteran gives the Jets the best chance to win now -- and save Ryan's job. So Smith had given Ryan what he wanted with typical rookie mistakes ... until Ryan made an even bigger gaffe himself.
Oh, by the way, the Jets eventually won in overtime, 24-21, on Billy Cundiff's 32-yard field goal, and in a bizarre postgame press conference -- in which he didn't make a whole lot of sense -- Ryan said he was "happy to get the win."
To which Jets Nation -- general manager John Idzik likely included -- replied, "Huh?"
Was Ryan really celebrating a worthless preseason win at a time when one of his quarterbacks -- possibly his starter -- was inexplicably put in jeopardy and possibly seriously injured?
Sanchez completed 5 of 6 passes for 72 yards, and he also mishandled a snap that the Giants recovered. After he was knocked out of the game, Sanchez was replaced by Matt Simms.
Ryan tried to defend playing Sanchez by saying the Jets were playing to win, but he couldn't explain why, then, the starters were out of the game. Nor could he provide a good answer for risking Sanchez. Ryan seemed to say it was more important to win a preseason game than keep his quarterbacks healthy for the regular season.
"It was my decision, it was the coach's decision all the way. It was my decision," Ryan said. "You're talking about competing, all week we talk about winning the game and competing and it was my decision.
"I would not have put Mark in there if it wasn't important," Ryan said.
Eventually frustrated by an interrogation about whom his starter would be now, Ryan -- after refusing to anoint Smith or Sanchez -- said he would answer the question backwards and sideways ... and he turned his body while he was talking.
Too bad he wasn't that clever when it came to protecting his quarterback.
"I can say anything I want," he said. "That's the beauty of this country. I'll stand backwards and answer the question. I'm going sideways. We'll make the announcement when I think it's the appropriate time."
The appropriate time now? After the Jets get Sanchez's MRI results.
Austin, however, nailed him so hard that Austin was stung on the play, too.
"No, I didn't know (Sanchez was hurt)," Auston said. "I was hurt when I hit him. I felt it in my chest. I played it off and tried to run off, but it was a pretty hard hit. Hopefully he's healthy. I don't wish anybody to be hurt. But it was a hard hit."
Meanwhile, Smith, the Jets' second-round pick out of West Virginia, threw a 22-yard touchdown pass to Ben Obomanu on the team's second offensive series, but the play did little to overshadow Smith's back-to-back interceptions on the final two drives of the first quarter. Smith also committed an embarrassing error by stepping out of the end zone by mistake for a safety under a pass rush.
After the Jets went three-and-out on their first possession, the Giants quickly responded when David Wilson raced 86 yards on the team's first play from scrimmage for a touchdown and a 7-0 lead. The Jets responded with an 86-yard, eight-play drive that was capped off with Smith's pass to Obomanu.
Smith finished the night 16 of 30 for 199 yards with a touchdown, three interceptions and the fourth-quarter safety. He disputed that he is uncomfortable in a drop-back attack after running a shotgun attack in college.
"It felt natural. I've had a ton of experience in practice with it," Smith said. "I'm getting better with it, it felt natural. The offensive line did a great job of protecting, I was able to stand back there and go through my reads and hit open receivers."
It didn't look as if Smith was going through his reads, and even Giants cornerback Prince Amukamara, who had an interception, said the rookie "was locking onto his receivers," which allowed Amukamara to jump the route.
Smith said that "other than those mistakes that I put entirely myself in, I felt pretty relaxed out there."
If it's actually true, it's good thing -- because he could be the starter.