DENNIS WASZAK Jr.
AP Sports Writer
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) -- Mark Sanchez is still the New York Jets' franchise quarterback despite being mired in one of the worst slumps of his career.
Tim Tebow, however, is still the team's most talked-about quarterback.
Yep, the backup has been the center of attention most of this week for a team struggling to stay competitive during a season on the verge of slipping away. Anonymous players were quoted earlier in the week in media reports criticizing Tebow's abilities at the quarterback position, which is preventing the Jets from pulling Sanchez.
In a strange way, it has taken some of the heat off Sanchez, who still has a firm hold on the starting job.
"I don't think it's like a backhanded compliment or anything like that," he said Wednesday. "Guys know that I'm working hard, trying to fix my mistakes and that we're all in this thing together. Guys are taking responsibility and now we just need to fix our mistakes, and it's not one person. It's multiple things that have kind of built up and really hurt us as a team."
New York coach Rex Ryan remains committed to Sanchez as his team's leader -- while Tebow is still just a part-time contributor who many think should be given a chance at rescuing the Jets' season. Owner Woody Johnson also backed Sanchez on Thursday when he was asked during practice if he still views Sanchez as the franchise quarterback.
"He is our franchise quarterback," Johnson said. "I don't 'view' him that way -- that's what he is."
That support comes even as Sanchez is ranked near the bottom of the NFL in several passing categories. In the Jets' last three games, all losses, Sanchez has thrown two touchdown passes and three interceptions, lost three fumbles and been sacked 11 times.
There have been a handful of questionable decisions, too, such as in last week's 28-7 loss at Seattle when he tried to force a pass to Dustin Keller in the end zone that was intercepted -- while a wide-open Stephen Hill was jumping up and down trying to get the quarterback's attention.
"We've been in some close games and this last one slipped away and it really snowballed," Sanchez said. "Who knows if we convert on a fourth-and-1? Who knows if I don't throw a pick on the goal line? We're right there and some of these decisions or results of plays, poorly executed plays, they turn it for the worse and they happen consecutively. Then the score ends up what it is. You eliminate a couple of those mistakes early, who knows?"
That's what has the Jets and their fans so frustrated this season. There have been moments in which the offense has played well under new coordinator Tony Sparano, namely the Jets' 48-28 season-opening victory over Buffalo and their 35-9 win against Indianapolis a few weeks ago. But the stretches of ineptitude have been far too common for the Jets (3-6), who will play the Rams (3-5-1) and former offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer in St. Louis on Sunday.
"Am I frustrated? No," Sparano said Thursday. "Do I want us to do better? Yes."
And most of the finger-pointing has gone in Sanchez's direction, with expectations that he should be able, in his fourth season, to raise his game in the most dire of situations -- which this is starting to become for New York. Ryan has repeatedly said that Sanchez "gives us the best chance to win," and with the season on the brink, the quarterback will head to St. Louis knowing it's a must-win situation for his team.
A loss, and the Jets fall to 3-7 and likely out of the playoff picture with six games to go. That would mean after consecutive trips to the AFC championship game in his first two seasons, Sanchez and his teammates would be sitting home for two straight postseasons.
"I'm just fighting for this week," Sanchez said when asked if he needs to play well to keep his job. "I'm just fighting to win this week."
Sanchez has not complained publicly about how he lost his top receiver in Santonio Holmes to a foot injury earlier this season, was without Keller for a month because of a hamstring issue, has had inconsistent protection from his offensive line or how the running game has been mostly grounded by a lack of production.
Instead, Sanchez has shouldered the blame while trying to stay optimistic -- even if it appears at times to be unrealistic.