MIAMI GARDENS, Fla.
Josh McCown knew he had to get something extra on the pass because his receiver, Jermaine Kearse, would be running his route along the far sideline. When you throw across the field like that, you’d better throw it as hard as you can.
So as McCown came off his first read down the middle of the field, he turned slightly to fire the ball to his left toward Kearse.
And then it happened.
McCown knew from studying the Dolphins’ coverage during the week that he’d have Kearse open on the play because of Miami’s defensive alignment. But on the play that ultimately would decide Sunday’s game, what McCown saw next left him mortified.
With the score tied at 28 and the Jets at their 15-yard line with 47 seconds left and all three of their timeouts remaining, McCown went to throw and suddenly saw cornerback Bobby McCain at the very spot he was aiming for.
What happened next felt like a bad dream in slow motion.
“It was one of those where I tried to stop as I was throwing because I saw [McCain] late,” McCown said. “So I didn’t get enough on the ball.”
As he described the play that set up a crushing 31-28 loss, McCown stopped talking for a moment, so complete was his anguish. “I don’t even want to think about it,” he said. “Man, it makes you sick. It’s something that can’t happen.”
But it happened.
Instead of throwing the ball as hard as he could, McCown had the ball sail on him. McCain intercepted it at the Jets’ 23 and ran it back to the 17 with 39 seconds to play. Four plays later, Cody Parkey’s 39-yard field goal sent the Jets to a second straight loss in which they’d blown a sizable lead.
Last week, it was a 24-17 loss to the Patriots after surging to a 14-0 first-half lead. This time it was a three-point loss in a game in which they led 28-14 early in the fourth quarter.
McCown had staked the Jets to that impressive lead with three touchdown passes and a 1-yard TD run, but none of it mattered because of what occurred in the final moments to drop the Jets to 3-4.
He had the chance every quarterback dreams of, even a 38-year-old quarterback who knows he doesn’t have much time left: Game on the line, ball in your hands, time to go win it.
“A minute left, three timeouts, the coach asks you to win the ballgame,” McCown said. “That’s what you want to do in this league as a quarterback.’’
And when McCown saw his pass flutter into McCain’s hands, it was awful. “To go out there and have that happen, as professionals, as quarterbacks, there’s not a lot of worse feelings than that for me,” he said.
McCown finished 17-for-27 for 209 yards and was the first quarterback in franchise history to have three touchdown passes and a rushing touchdown since 1960, when the immortal Al Dorow did it three times. The Jets weren’t even the Jets back then; they were the Titans.
But it turned out to be another terrible ending, this one worse than the last. “Todd [Bowles] puts his trust in us to go down and execute and get that done, and we let him down,” McCown said. “We’ve got to be a better team than that. If we’re gonna be the team we want to be, we have to make that next step.”
Instead, they took a giant step back, thanks to McCown’s botched play.
It was as dispiriting an ending as he’s ever been a part of, and the only thing that will get him out of his funk will come after he wallows for a day in abject frustration.
“I’m very disappointed, and I will be for the next 24 hours,” he said. “But when we start turning on that tape for Atlanta, we’re moving on, and I’m moving on, and I’ll be excited. Can’t wait to kick the ball off Sunday.”
Sunday can’t come soon enough.