EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — It has been a while since Tim Tebow only watched this much from the sideline.
The popular backup quarterback didn’t play a snap for the New York Jets for the fourth time in five games, a mere spectator despite being active Sunday for the 27-17 loss to the San Diego Chargers.
Tebow was leapfrogged by Greg McElroy on the team’s depth chart when Rex Ryan chose to have the third-stringer make his first NFL start in place of the benched Mark Sanchez. All three quarterbacks were active, but only McElroy played — and Tebow never got into the game in the team’s wildcat package. Tebow said ‘‘it just happened’’ that he didn’t play in the package usually reserved for him, but ESPN New York reported that he actually asked out of running the wildcat earlier in the week, according to sources.
New York will either trade or release Tebow after the season, a disappointing one-year stint with the Jets that just seems to get worse for Tebow. He was asked after the game if he could remember the last time he had played so little on the football field.
‘‘Three or 4 years old, probably,’’ Tebow said. ‘‘Since I started.’’
The former Heisman Trophy winner and two-time national champion at the University of Florida spent his first two seasons with the Denver Broncos, who used Tebow in occasional situations until he became the starter last season and led the team to the playoffs.
‘‘My rookie year, I got opportunities doing stuff,’’ Tebow said. ‘‘You know, goal-line, third down, fourth down and stuff like that.’’
The Jets used wide receiver Jeremy Kerley in the wildcat as Tebow remained on the sideline. Kerley completed a 42-yard pass to Clyde Gates out of the wildcat, and had a few other snaps out of the scheme.
‘‘Well, it’s been disappointing,’’ Tebow said of the season. ‘‘Obviously, it didn’t go as we thought, as I had hoped, but sometimes in life you have that. Sometimes you have setbacks and you just have to look at them as another opportunity for you to step back up and keep working and figure out what to do.’’
Tebow was acquired from Denver in a trade last March and expected to be a major contributor to the offense. He has been only a role player — whenever he actually plays. He took three snaps at St. Louis on Nov. 18, a week after breaking two ribs, but has played in just one game since — getting a full offensive series for the first time all season last Monday night in Tennessee.
Otherwise, it has been a lot of standing around for Tebow. There were several moments throughout the game Sunday when the defense was on the field and McElroy and Sanchez went over the game plan with offensive coordinator Tony Sparano, while Tebow was off to the side talking with other teammates.
‘‘I think first and foremost, you try to do what’s right and you try to do your best and you try to treat others the way you want to be treated,’’ Tebow said. ‘‘Those were three things that my high school football coach taught me and it’s still just as true to this day.’’
Tebow was then asked if he feels he has been treated right by the Jets, and he then laughed twice.
‘‘I have a lot of great relationships with people in the Jets organization and this team,’’ he said. ‘‘It’s been a privilege to be a part of this team.’’
He also avoided a question about whether he thinks he has been given a fair chance in New York, saying he wants to focus on the future.
That future could include his hometown Jacksonville Jaguars, who will pursue Tebow in the offseason, according to an ESPN report. He laughed off the rumors that he could be heading back to his hometown and the only other team besides the Jets that tried to acquire him last offseason.
‘‘We’ve just got to find a way to beat the Buffalo Bills next Sunday,’’ Tebow said.
Tebow was asked if it was perhaps his agent Jimmy Sexton who is floating out those rumors, and the quarterback strongly defended him saying he has ‘‘Jimmy’s back.’’
He also disagreed with the notion that perhaps the situation was a distraction to the team as they prepared for Sunday’s game.
‘‘You look around and see all the reports and, golly, there’s a lot of random news going out there,’’ Tebow said. ‘‘Guys in this locker room, they don’t pay attention. So, to say it was a distraction I think is false. I don’t think it’s a distraction to anybody in this locker room. That’s the first I even heard of it. It’s not a big deal.’’