FLORHAM PARK, N.J.
In the end, the decision came down to one thing only for Todd Bowles.
With the Jets’ coach choosing his regular-season starter from a flawed group of quarterbacks, he took the path of least resistance and went with the most experienced player. Even though 38-year-old Josh McCown almost certainly will not be around if the Jets ever become a playoff contender, Bowles chose him for the only reason that matters to a coach.
“He gives us the best chance to win right now,” Bowles said of McCown, who beat out second-year player Christian Hackenberg and third-year man Bryce Petty. “The other two got significantly better, but he still has the best grasp of the offense right now. From his talent, he’s proven it this spring and this summer.”
It’s an entirely plausible and logical line of thinking, and it’s the right decision — at least for now.
Coaches are about winning, and so are players, and if Bowles had anointed Hackenberg (who clearly is not ready) or Petty (who did show improvement during the offseason and training camp), he would have effectively waved a white flag even before the season started.
Yes, it is urgent that the Jets find a quarterback of the future, and yes, it is important to develop young quarterbacks as much as possible. But if you stand up in front of your team at the start of the regular season and you don’t give the starting job to the most qualified candidate, then you are telling your players that you care less about winning now than about providing experience for less proven players.
That’s a message Bowles is unwilling to send. At least not until the Jets get to the point at which there is nothing to play for.
You can argue that they already have reached that point, based on their inexperience and lack of talent. But don’t tell that to Bowles and his staff, and don’t tell that to players who want to win, regardless of the odds stacked against them.
The Jets have a lot invested in Hackenberg, drafted as a potential franchise QB. But if Bowles had named him his starter just to get him regular-season experience, he would have been telling the team he was willing to forgo any chance of victory.
Hackenberg still is overwhelmed by the NFL game. Go back to Saturday night against the Giants, when he threw two pick-6s.
A better case can be made for Petty, who did well in the last two preseason games, albeit against second- and third-team defenses.
But even Bowles suggested there was no disagreement among the coaches — including offensive coordinator John Morton and quarterbacks coach Jeremy Bates — about McCown being the starter. During his news conference announcing the quarterback decision, Bowles said that if the race had been close, he would have cast the deciding vote. Evidently, the race wasn’t close.
For any Jets fans who still want to see what Petty or Hackenberg has in a regular-season situation, they almost certainly will get that chance. Whether it’s because of injury or ineffectiveness, there’s a good chance that Bowles will make a change during the season.
After all, we’re not talking about Tom Brady here, and McCown will be able to do only so much with an offense that isn’t deep at receiver and has question marks along the line.
Bates flashed back to 2005, the last time he was the Jets’ quarterbacks coach, when the Jets went through five quarterbacks — five! Chad Pennington and Jay Fiedler were hurt on consecutive plays, and the Jets used Brooks Bollinger and Vinny Testaverde and signed Kliff Kingsbury as a backup.
His message: Stay loose.
“When I tell whoever is two and three to be ready, I mean it,” Bates said. “We lost Chad and Jay in one quarter, so when I do tell them that, I’ve experienced it. It’s a sharp room, and they understand there’s going to be an opportunity to play this year.”
That opportunity will come. It just won’t come right away.