Todd Bowles left enough wiggle room for any decision he’ll make about his starting quarterback moving forward, but there really is no other choice than to stick with Bryce Petty — his youth and inexperience be damned.
The Jets are 3-7, and their season is effectively over in terms of playoff hopes, so all that’s really left is to see if Petty can be a viable alternative the rest of the way and be part of the quarterback solution in 2017 and beyond.
Petty offered both reason for promise and cause for concern on Sunday in his first NFL start. He orchestrated a superb 99-yard touchdown drive that included a 52-yard pass to Robby Anderson and was capped by a 4-yard touchdown pass on a hook-and-ladder — a short pass to Brandon Marshall and an immediate lateral to Bilal Powell, who raced in for the TD. But he also threw an interception late in the fourth quarter that ruined the Jets’ comeback bid in a 9-6 loss to the Rams.
“I learned a lot out there,” said Petty, a fourth-round pick out of Baylor in 2015. “There’s definitely a lot to be learned out there, as opposed to the sidelines, or in practice, or in the film room. Just laid the foundation today and looking forward to the future and what’s next.”
The Jets now have a bye week, and Bowles was noncommittal about who will start the Jets’ next game on Nov. 27 against the Patriots.
“We’re going to evaluate everything next week,” Bowles said. “I’m not naming anybody going forward. I’ll look at the film, and I’ll see how Ryan’s feeling, and I’ll go from there.”
Bowles’ decision for the Rams game essentially was sealed by the condition of Ryan Fitzpatrick’s left knee. The 33-year-old quarterback suffered a sprained ligament in last week’s loss to the Dolphins and wasn’t healthy enough for a full load against an excellent Rams defense. But with Fitzpatrick nearing the end of a one-year, $12-million contract and the Jets clearly not interested in bringing him back in 2017, these final six games ought to be about getting a better read on whether Petty can be the guy.
The final answer may be that he isn’t a good choice to compete for the starting job next season, ostensibly with 2016 second-round draft pick Christian Hackenberg, whom the Jets don’t want to rush into the lineup this season. But better to find out now if Petty should be in the mix as a starter or if his career trajectory should lean more toward a backup role.
“I definitely wanted a different outcome, but I’m going to learn a lot from this and hopefully there will be more opportunities to play down the road,” said Petty, who completed 19 of 32 passes for 163 yards with one TD and one interception. “I’m going to pull a lot from this.”
Petty looked terrific on what turned out to be his only scoring drive of the game. On second-and-9 from the 2-yard line late in the first quarter, he got the Jets out of immediate danger with a perfectly thrown pass down the sideline for Anderson, who beat single coverage by cornerback E.J. Gaines and got to the Rams’ 46.
“I’ve thrown a lot of balls in my life,” Petty said, “but that was one of the purest balls I’ve ever thrown, and Robby did a great job running underneath it.”
The Jets got to the Rams’ 5 on a 28-yard run by Matt Forte, and on third-and-goal from the 4, Petty threw to his left to Marshall, who flipped the ball back to Powell as he raced behind him. Powell ran into the left corner of the end zone for a play worthy of any schoolyard football game.
“I was laughing when I got that number in my [headset] and called it out,” Petty said of offensive coordinator Chan Gailey’s play call. “But that’s awesome on Chan’s part to call it. We practiced it a couple weeks. We executed it perfectly.”
But that was it for the rest of the day. The Rams’ defense adjusted by going to a more conservative cover-2 scheme, and Petty was reduced mostly to check-down passes. And when there were opportunities for bigger plays, particularly when Marshall was left in single coverage, Petty failed to take advantage.
His afternoon ended with an interception by Rams linebacker Alec Ogletree on a pass intended for Quincy Enunwa.
“I forced it a little bit,” Petty said. “I’ve got to put that ball more inside on and not give an opportunity to make a play like that.”
At least Petty showed enough to engender some confidence in those around him.
“I think he played really well and managed the game well,” said Marshall, who was held to four catches for 15 yards. “I think he was efficient. He will get better, and we will continue to make plays for him.”
They’ll make plays for him as long as he’s in the lineup, but that’s up to Bowles. It says here the coach needs to keep seeing what he has in Petty.