The New York Jets and Arizona Cardinals came into Sunday's game at MetLife Stadium with identical 4-7 records and both hoping to keep some small playoff hope alive. It was the Jets who came away with the 7-6 win, but not without some drama.
After two-and-a-half anemic quarters, Jets coach Rex Ryan benched franchise QB Mark Sanchez and inserted third-string QB Greg McElroy into the game. Sanchez finished the day 10 of 21 for just 97 yards and three interceptions. He was also sacked three times.
With backup QB Tim Tebow sidelined with two cracked ribs, McElroy stepped in and, on his first drive, took the Jets 69 yards for a touchdown. On the day, he was 5 of 7 for 29 yards and a 1-yard TD pass to TE Jeff Cumberland.
It was the first regular season game for McElroy, who spent his entire 2011 rookie season on injured reserve after surgery for a dislocated thumb.
The Cardinals offense struggled similarly all day long with their rookie third-string QB, Ryan Lindley, under center. Lindley finished his day 10 of 31 for 72 yards and one interception. He was sacked twice.
Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt said that he had also considered making a quarterback change, but decided against it.
"It's one of the things we talked about, but you always have to do what you think gives you the best chance and that's what we did," Whisenhunt said.
Not helping matters was that the Cardinals had three other rookies starting on offense -- first-round pick and WR Michael Floyd, who had just two catches for 10 yards, along with LT Nate Potter and RT Bobby Massie. Rich Ohrnberger also started his first career game at center after C Lyle Sendlein, an offensive team captain, went on IR with a torn MCL.
Both defenses had significantly better days than their respective offenses. The Cardinals' defense wreaked havoc on Sanchez and the Jets offense -- and kept McElroy on his toes, as well. In addition to intercepting Sanchez three times, including two picks by former Jets safety Kerry Rhodes, the Cardinals also sacked Sanchez three times and batted down a pass.
On one play, cornerback William Gay came completely free and went straight for Sanchez like a missile.
"The first one, I knew exactly what the play was going to be," Rhodes said of his interceptions. "The second one, they tried to run a pump, so I kind of knew on that one, too."
Linebacker Daryl Washington, who came into the game with nine on the season, had no sacks, but led the team with nine tackles and a fumble recovery. In the first quarter, cornerback Patrick Peterson made an unbelievable grab, plucking a ball from the hands of WR Chaz Schilens.
The Jets defense looked completely in sync, making Lindley uncomfortable in the pocket. The Jets held the Cardinals offense to just 153 total yards.
"It was so important to bounce back and put that Jets defense back out there," DL Mike DeVito said. "You know we've had some rough ones this year, but today really showed (that the Jets can play well) and built our confidence back up and showed that we know that we can go out there and play in this system, play the way we know we can play and we can be a scary defense."
Said Lindley, "I felt like we were going to chip away and get something going, but it kind of stopped for us. We will go look at the film. A lot of things went wrong or could have gone better, but we will move on."
The Jets special teams woes continued. Nick Folk missed two field goals -- one for 46 yards, which hit the left upright and one for 52 yards, which hit the right upright.
The Cardinals' only points came from the special teams unit: two field goals by K Jay Feely (a former member of the Jets).
When the game turned: In the third quarter, coach Rex Ryan benched starter QB Mark Sanchez and put in third-string QB Greg McElroy. On the next series, McElroy took the team 69 yards and scored the game's first and only touchdown.
Highlight moments: QB Greg McElroy's one-yard touchdown pass to TE Jeff Cumberland. … Cardinals S Kerry Rhodes' two interceptions of Sanchez – the first on the Jets' first play of the game. … Cardinals punt fake and the ensuing 40-yard gain by S Rashad Johnson setting up a field goal by Jay Feely field goal by Jay Feely.
- Jets RB Shonn Greene -- 24 rushes for 104 yards
- Cardinals S Kerry Rhodes -- 2 INTS, 6 tackles, 3 passes defensed and one forced fumble
What they said about Ryan pulling Sanchez in favor of third-string QB Greg McElroy:
- Jets coach Rex Ryan -- "It's just something I sensed and felt. When you're around this game long enough, you get the feeling that, 'I've seen enough and it's time to make that change.' "
- Jets QB Mark Sanchez -- "I didn't expect it, but it doesn't matter. It's the coach's call."
- Jets third-string QB Greg McElroy -- "(As soon as the decision was made, Sanchez) gave me a hug and said, 'Hey, go get 'em.' "
What they said about the Jets defense not allowing the Cardinals a third down conversion:
- Jets CB Antonio Cromartie -- "It was just great play-calling. Guys were playing relentless. Our biggest focus was to make sure we got off the field and we did a great job of that."
- Jets LB David Harris -- "That was huge for us. We knew coming into the game that they were going to keep the game conservative and run and take their shot at the passing game."
- Jets LB Bryan Thomas -- "All the guys had to be on the same page. That's how it should be week in and week out. It was a team effort."
Numbers you should know: 0 -- The Cardinals, who came into the game 32nd in the NFL in third-down conversions, finished the game 0 of 15 in the same category.
Injury update: Jets -- TE Dustin Keller left in the second quarter with a rib injury. RB Joe McKnight left the game in the third quarter with a rib injury. Cardinals – LB Paris Lenon left the game in the first quarter with a shoulder injury
Going forward: Jets -- The Jets, now 5-7 needed this game to keep their very slim playoff hopes alive. They face a 2-10 Jaguars team in Week 14 Cardinals -- Now 4-8, the Cardinals look pretty well out of the playoff hunt. They face a 7-5 Seahawks team in Week 14 in Seattle.
Stay dialed in on the New York Jets by following correspondent Lisa Zimmerman on Twitter @CBSJets and @LisaZimmerman.
For more news and analysis from Cardinals blogger Jon Gold, follow @CBSCardinals on Twitter.