The New York Jets might have to try to clinch a playoff spot this weekend without Mark Sanchez.
Jets Coach Rex Ryan said Thursday that Sanchez's sore shoulder is worse than he first thought, though he still expects the quarterback to start Sunday at Chicago. If not, 40-year-old Mark Brunell would get the start.
"This one could be more of a game-time type decision than I thought it would be," Ryan said.
The Jets (10-4) will clinch a playoff berth if they beat the Bears (10-4) at Soldier Field.
Sanchez was limited in practice for the second straight day and "never had a ton of zip" on his passes, according to Ryan. But offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer saw it differently, offering a more optimistic evaluation.
"As he got going a little bit, he looked pretty good," Schottenheimer said. "Early in the day, Mark was trying to get loose. He had an 18-yard curl route that was awfully sharp."
Ryan would not confirm published reports that an MRI exam on Monday revealed a slight cartilage tear in Sanchez's shoulder, hurt during New York's second drive in last Sunday's 22-17 win at Pittsburgh. Sanchez finished the game, and played well through the injury. He completed 19 of 29 passes for 170 yards and ran for a touchdown, snapping an eight-game interception streak.
"I still think he's going to play, but I was shocked a little bit," Ryan said. "The fact that he played the game and he looked great, I think I made an assumption that maybe I shouldn't have."
Earlier in the week, Ryan said he was 99% sure Sanchez would play. He downgraded that number to 80% Thursday.
Sanchez was not available to the media because he talks on Wednesdays, but has said he's "playing, that's all there is to it."
Brunell, signed in the off-season after two years with the New Orleans Saints, is prepared to step in for Sanchez if needed. His last start came in the regular-season finale last year as Drew Brees rested for the Saints' eventual Super Bowl-winning push.
"You have to be ready, that's the job of a backup," Brunell said.
Schottenheimer said the Jets wouldn't have to change much of the offensive game plan if Brunell starts, except for the fact he's left-handed.
"There'd be a few things here or there you might want to flip over and run the other way," Schottenheimer said. "For the most part, you don't change too much."
49ers change Smiths again
The San Francisco 49ers are going back to Troy Smith as their starting quarterback while leaving open the possibility they might switch to Alex Smith at any time.
Coach Mike Singletary said Thursday that Troy Smith will start Sunday's pivotal NFC West game against the St. Louis Rams in place of Alex Smith, who started San Francisco's last two games.
The coach also said he wouldn't hesitate to change quarterbacks during the game if the situation calls for it.
The 49ers have now changed quarterbacks after each of their last two defeats in an attempt to salvage a losing season. At 5-9, San Francisco still has an opportunity to capture the NFC West title and end a seven-year playoff drought by winning its final two games against St. Louis and Arizona.
McNabb's agent blames Shanahans
Donovan McNabb's agent says the "tension" between the quarterback and Washington Coach Mike Shanahan and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan is due to McNabb's suggestions for improving the Redskins' offense.
Fletcher Smith said in a statement Thursday that the Shanahans have made comments that go beyond disrespectful and that were "unprecedented for a six-time Pro Bowl quarterback such as Donovan."
McNabb, who has declined requests for comment this week, was benched before last Sunday's game against Dallas and told by Mike Shanahan that he would not play for the remainder of the season.
Smith said in the statement that the Shanahans — "both Mike and more specifically Kyle" — have made the quarterback's relationship with Washington difficult to maintain.
He also said Washington used his client's suggested changes against Dallas.
"I believe there is tension between Donovan and Kyle that's rooted in the fact that Donovan has suggested modifications to Kyle's offense based on intricacies Donovan has learned in his NFL career," Smith wrote. "For example, Donovan has asked all year that the team run more screen passes to help manage the pass rush more effectively. Ironically, Kyle decided to employ Donovan's suggestions after he unceremoniously benched him on Sunday."
The Redskins did not respond to requests for comment on Smith's statement.