FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — The Sanchise is taking a seat this week, and he's not happy about it.
New York Jets coach Rex Ryan decided Wednesday that Mark Sanchez will not play at Tampa Bay on Sunday because of a sprained right knee, and Kellen Clemens will start in his place.
"It's just a frustrating part of this game," a clearly irritated Sanchez said. "I asked him if I could at least try to practice [Thursday] and he said, 'No way, because I know if you practice tomorrow, then you're going to play and we don't want to run any risk of further injury.' It's difficult to handle."
Ryan said he consulted with team doctors and made the call to sit Sanchez, who's "mad as a hornet" at him.
"He wants to play in the worst way and he's going to play," Ryan said. "It's just not going to be this week. I have a lot of confidence in Kellen Clemens and I think that instead of delaying this decision, I'm just going to make it now."
Sanchez sprained the posterior cruciate ligament in the knee during the third quarter of the Jets' 19-13 win over Buffalo in Toronto last Thursday. He said he's still not sure if the injury occurred on his dive for a first down, or a previous play. He didn't appear to be noticeably hobbled when he stepped up and down from the podium.
"I'd love to play," he said. "I think if this was the Super Bowl, I would definitely be playing."
Sanchez had started every game this season since beating out Clemens for the job. The injury came two days after the Jets brought in Yankees manager Joe Girardi to help Sanchez learn how to slide. Sanchez frustrated Ryan on the play as he was injured by diving headfirst, with the coach calling him a "knucklehead."
"It's Rex's decision right now and I'd love to play," Sanchez said when asked if he thought Ryan might have been sending a message to him by sitting him. Ryan said through a team spokesman that the decision was not punitive.
Sanchez didn't practice Monday or Wednesday, and is expected to get a fitted knee brace Thursday. He already wears a brace on the left knee from a previous injury.
"At first, I guess I was upset that he wouldn't even give me a chance to practice and try to wait until the last second," Sanchez said. "At the same time, I understand that Kellen needs all the reps as possible if he's going to start this week. That's totally fair to him, and I understand where Rex is coming from, but that doesn't necessarily mean I agree or I'm happy about it."
Ryan, who was optimistic about Sanchez's chances Monday, said there were no setbacks in the quarterback's recovery that swayed his decision. He added that Sanchez will be "shut down completely" and not travel to Tampa Bay.
"The last time I felt like this, I was a redshirt freshman [at USC] where you don't travel to the game," Sanchez said. "It's just a weird feeling."
The Jets (6-6) got back in the AFC playoff mix by winning their last two games, and take on a Buccaneers team that has struggled to a 1-11 record. Ryan said the quality of the opponent was not a factor in deciding to go with Clemens, who will make his ninth NFL start Sunday, and first since 2007 when he took over for a struggling Chad Pennington.
"I think I'd be a little bit more concerned if it was my first start ever," Clemens said, "but I have some experience under my belt."
Clemens came in after Sanchez was injured and was 1-for-2 for 14 yards, helping lead a scoring drive against Buffalo.
"You never like to see a teammate that's injured, but it's a good opportunity for me," Clemens said. "I'm excited to be out there playing again."
Clemens was drafted in the second round out of Oregon in 2006 and was considered the Jets' quarterback of the future. He sat for most of his rookie season, but started half the games the following year with mediocre results. Clemens barely got on the field last season with Brett Favre in town, and has only thrown three passes this year.
"It hasn't been an easy road sitting on the bench on Sundays," he said.
This is the last year on Clemens' contract, and there's some speculation that he won't be back next season — making this a chance to showcase himself.
"It's not about me," he said. "It's an opportunity to show for the last 13 weeks that I've been working hard and I didn't pack it in when Mark was named the starter. As far as other teams, it's about us going out and getting our seventh win and getting above .500 and getting one step closer to the playoffs."