EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Greg McElroy made his NFL debut after Mark Sanchez was benched following three miserable quarters and capped his first drive with a one-yard touchdown pass to Jeff Cumberland on the first play of the fourth quarter as the New York Jets edged the Arizona Cardinals, 7-6, in a remarkable battle of offensive ineptitude Sunday afternoon.
McElroy went 5-for-7 for 29 yards and Shonn Greene rushed 24 times for 104 yards as the Jets improved to 5-7 and kept their slim playoff hopes alive. The Cardinals have quarterback issues of their own after third-stringer Ryan Lindley went 10-for-31 for 72 yards in Arizona's eighth straight loss following a 4-0 start.
Jets head coach Rex Ryan had been unwaveringly loyal to the increasingly error-prone Sanchez, who entered Sunday with eight turnovers in his last five games and 15 overall this season. But Ryan finally saw enough Sunday after Sanchez went 10-for-21 with three interceptions and a 21.4 passer rating in the Jets' first 10 series.
The less-than-capacity crowd at MetLife Stadium, which had been chanting for McElroy since the first half, was thrilled with the change. McElroy -- who was active only because Tim Tebow was out with broken ribs -- was greeted with a standing ovation as he trotted on to the field at 3:09 p.m. ET to Guns N' Roses "Sweet Child o' Mine."
McElroy promptly marched the Jets 69 yards in 10 plays, a drive highlighted by his first NFL completion -- an eight-yarder to Stephen Hill -- runs of 17 yards and 10 yards by Bilal Powell and the late hit McElroy drew from Dan Williams that gave the Jets a first down at the Cardinals' 14-yard-line.
After Cumberland scored, McElroy retrieved the ball and leaped into the arms of tight end Konrad Reuland, who went to the same high school as Sanchez.
McElroy sealed the win for the Jets by directing a 73-yard drive that ate up the final 7:55 and ended with McElroy taking a pair of knees at the Cardinals' one-yard-line.
The first half was remarkable for its offensive ineptitude. Quarterbacks Sanchez and Ryan Lindley combined for four interceptions, and the three picks by Sanchez inspired Jets fans to chant for backup Greg McElroy, who has never taken an NFL snap and was active for the first time ever with Tim Tebow sidelined with broken ribs.
Of their 15 possessions the Jets and Cardinals had, 10 ended in four plays or less. The two teams gained 267 yards on 70 plays, an average of 3.81 yards per play. The longest play of the half came on a fake punt by the Cardinals when safety Rashad Johnson took the direct snap deep in Arizona territory and raced 40 yards to set up Jay Feely's 48-yard field goal as time expired. That spared the Jets and Cardinals the ignobility of playing the first scoreless first half in the NFL since the Broncos and Bears dueled to a 0-0 tie Dec. 11, 2011.
Jets kicker Nick Folk missed both his field goal attempts. One bounced off the left goal post and the other bounced off the right goal post.
Things didn't get any better in the second half, which opened with the two teams combining for 24 yards on 20 plays from scrimmage over their first six series. By that point, Ryan, at least, had seen enough and finally pulled Sanchez for McElroy.
NOTES: The Cardinals haven't beaten the Jets since Nov. 23, 1975, back when they were in St. Louis. The two teams have played just six times since then. ... Tebow was inactive 10 days after the Thanksgiving loss to the Jets in which Rex Ryan said he wouldn't play him in anything but an extreme emergency. ... Folk missed multiple field goals in a game for the fifth time in his career but the second time in the last three weeks. He was 2-for-4 against the Rams Nov. 18 and is 4-of-9 since connecting on his first 11 attempts of the season. ... Jets tight end Dustin Keller (left foot) and Cardinals linebacker Paris Lenon (left shoulder) each exited the game in the first half with injuries while Jets running back Joe McKnight (ribs) left in the third quarter.