EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — It looks like we have a third party entering the great debate over who should be the Jets starting quarterback.

Months of people clamoring over who should be the starting quarterback in New York — Mark Sanchez, a California golden boy who’s seen his production dip after two trips to the AFC Championship, or Tim Tebow, the polarizing, unorthodox quarterback who has all the unmeasurables — it may be the team’s 2011 seventh round pick with a championship pedigree that is the answer.

Greg McElroy came off the bench to deafening cheers of “MC-EL-ROY! MC-EL-ROY!” at the 4:48 mark in the third quarter to make his NFL debut, marched a, to that point, stagnant offense down the field for what would be the game-winning 1-yard bootleg option touchdown to a wide open Jeff Cumberland.

In a no-lose situation, with little expectations following another dismal performance by Mark Sanchez, McElroy ignited the offense with on-field moxie and in return awoke a dormant Jets fan base sans their fan spokesman, Fireman Ed, for the first time.

“Well, you can definitely tell that the stadium was happy about [the change at quarterback],” safety Yeremiah Bell said.

The boos that were hanging over MetLife Stadium like the heavy fog that rolled in Sunday morning were soon replaced with gleaming cheers as sunshine broke through the overcast clouds. Divine intervention? Or did the Jets finally find themselves on the good side of Lady Luck?

With a heavy dose of Shonn Greene and Bilal Powell, it’s what McElroy didn’t do that made the difference in the game and is, perhaps, the difference between himself and the man he replaced. Since last season, Sanchez has 31 interceptions and 20 fumbles. Too often those turnovers have come when he has tried to force the ball or make a big play. McElroy, who describeD himself as the “nerdy”-type, comes from a different school of thought.

“I think one of the things I really try to do is just play the game by the numbers. If it’s first and 10, we want it to be second and five. If it’s second and five, we want it to be third and manageable, so that’s two or three,” he said after the game. “If you keep it like that, you’re going to keep yourself sustaining long drives and things like that, minimize turnovers and explosive plays are essentially what wins the game. And that’s always been my train of thought.”

His college coach, Nick Saban, instilled him with that mentality — a man who McElroy thinks is very comparable to his professional coach, Rex Ryan.

“Coach Ryan, obviously him and Coach Saban have a lot of similarities and I’m very very grateful to play for a coach in the NFL that is so similar to what I’ve been used to and what I’ve grown up in,” he said.

While under Saban, he led a run-heavy offense at Alabama on their way to National Title. In a Ryan-Tony Sparano offensive scheme that’s predicated on ball control, defensive success and sound special teams a game manager who minimizes mistakes is necessary. McElroy doesn’t shy away from the game manager label. Instead he embraces it.]

“I think [my strength is] just managing the game. I think it’s often overused to a certain extent, but it’s so important and it’s something that I take great pride in. It’s something that I would like to continue to try to do well,” he said.

With McEloy’s emergence — albeit two drives — Ryan now finds himself in the middle of tricky love triangle. After standing up in front of the podium week after week declaring his “belief in Mark Sanchez giving this team the best opportunity to win games”, the Jets head coach had a different answer when asked if he still feels the same way.

“We’ll address that going forward.”

Asked how tough it would by psychologically to come in at quarterback after being benched, Sanchez flatly replied “I’m used to playing, so I think that would be easier” while not offering a comment on if he’ll be disappointed if he’s not the starter at Jacksonville next Sunday.

And let’s not forget about Tebow, the man everyone thought would be the Jets starter by now. Nursing a pair of broken ribs, Ryan said he “absolutely could have played, but it was a coach’s decision”. Tebow’s missed the last two games and prior to that was being fazed out of the offense. Traveling to play in his hometown next week there’s a possibility Tebow could be demoted to the third string quarterback at the birthplace of Tebowmania.

After talking all training camp about the importance of competition and teammates driving themselves to raise the expectations bar, Ryan may have — yet again — bit off more than he can chew.

Let the great debate begin. Again.

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