FLORHAM PARK, N.J.
The question seems simple and straightforward, and given the circumstances surrounding the 3-6 Jets’ quarterback situation, entirely appropriate.
But Bryce Petty won’t answer it. Not here. Not now.
Can you be the guy?
“That question is irrelevant,” Petty told Newsday after practice Wednesday.
It was an eyebrow-raising response, for sure. But let him explain, and you understand he’s actually being smart for not answering it. Or at least not answering it the way you might expect.
“At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what I think. It’s real ly important that I answer it that way, because the Jets come first, regardless of what I think. Coach (Todd) Bowles does a great job of putting guys in positions to be successful, so I felt like he’s always done that and he’s going to continue to do that.”
It may have been an awkward way of answering the question, but Petty’s response headed off even the slightest hint of betraying starter Ryan Fitzpatrick. By not saying “I know I can be the guy, sure” or “I believe I can lead this team” — completely understandable responses, because every professional athlete has an underlying confidence — Petty defused any potential controversy.
At least of his own doing.
With calls increasing for Bowles to give up on Fitzpatrick, who likely won’t be with the team after this season, and turn to Petty, the second-year quarterback believes it’s important to know his place and not make any remarks that might be construed as lobbying for the job. It’s an important distinction, especially for a guy who is clearly not the preferred choice for Bowles. At the moment, anyway.
With Fitzpatrick limited by a knee injury that briefly knocked him out of Sunday’s 27-23 loss to the Dolphins, Petty practiced this week after getting his first game experience. Petty went 2-for-2 for 19 yards, leading a field-goal drive.
“I almost have horse blinders on,” Petty said. “Just focus on what I’m supposed to focus on. Any way I can help the team, whether that’s starting or the backup. That’s what I’m trying to do.”
Bowles is holding out hope, however slim it might be, that the Jets can get back into playoff contention and that Fitzpatrick’s experience gives them the best chance to win. That may be true in theory, but Fitzpatrick’s performance is enough of a concern that Bowles should switch to Petty. Fitzpatrick threw two second-half interceptions Sunday, including a fourth-quarter pick in the end zone.
It’s safe to assume, however, that one way or another, we’ll see Petty before long. It’s implausible that the Jets will get in the playoff hunt, and potential limitations with Fitzpatrick’s injury could make it a matter of time before Petty replaces him.
For now, Petty is back to the bench, a familiar spot for him. Redshirted as a freshman at Baylor, he spent his first three seasons as a backup before starting his final two. He passed for 4,200 yards, 32 touchdowns and only three interceptions in his first year as the starter, then threw for 3,855 yards and 29 TDs as a senior.
“I’ve had a unique career where I’ve had to be patient more so than other guys,” Petty said. “So I understand the role of being a backup and having to prepare as a starter. I’ll continue to do things that way.”
He acknowledges he “had a blast” in his first game action.
“It was great,” he said. “I was smiling the whole time inside. I was trying to stay focused on the outside looking in. It was fun to get my first NFL action outside of preseason and practice.”
Fitzpatrick has been an invaluable resource, even if Petty might take his place.
“How much time do you have?” Petty said when asked about what he’s learned from Fitzpatrick. “Ryan has been great. Since the moment I stepped in, he’s like the big brother I never had. I’ve learned a lot about the game of football from him.”
Regardless of if or when Petty gets his chance, he takes nothing for granted.
“What I try to do each and every day is be the best teammate I can, and help this team whatever way I can, whether it’s getting first-team reps, backup, or third-string.”
Just happy to be here? You could say that.
“I don’t forget the time I was kind of on the bubble whether or not I was going to make the team (this season),” he said. “I cherish every day, and I don’t look past that.”
It may not be much longer to show whether he can be the guy. Even if he won’t say just yet whether he is.