After another mind-numbingly disappointing end to another losing season, the Jets were no closer to finding an answer to their biggest problem than they were the day the season began.
None of the three quarterbacks who slowly dressed next to one another after a 26-6 loss to the Patriots on Sunday will provide the long-term solution they require.
Not Bryce Petty, who was mostly woeful in throwing for 232 yards, zero touchdowns and zero third-down conversions.
Not Christian Hackenberg, the 2016 second-round pick who hasn’t played a down in his first two NFL seasons.
And not Josh McCown, who showed up for the game despite being on injured reserve with a broken left hand.
The Jets certainly will look elsewhere to find a quarterback capable of bringing this team out of the muck of last place in the AFC East, and it wouldn’t be a shock if all three of the men who showed up Sunday are not invited back.
McCown was the only quarterback who was even remotely functional this year, the only reason the Jets were even thinking about making a playoff run at midseason. But entrusting the future of a young team to a 38-year-old quarterback is simply not a viable option, and general manager Mike Maccagnan will have to come up with a suitable alternative.
Hackenberg’s failures have become a footnote to NFL history. He became only the second quarterback since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger to be drafted in the second round and not take a single snap in his first two years. Gene Bradley, drafted by the Bills in 1980, now has company with that ignominious feat. Bradley never did take an NFL snap — he was a backup with the USFL’s New Jersey Generals in 1983-84 — and Hackenberg certainly is headed in that direction after his first two NFL seasons.
Fortunately for Maccagnan and coach Todd Bowles, McCown did enough in his 13 starts to warrant two-year contract extensions for both men, so at least they’ll have the chance to fix their quarterback problem.
They could try to add an experienced quarterback such as Kirk Cousins, who could be headed out the door in Washington, or possibly the Chiefs’ Alex Smith, who might be expendable if Kansas City decides to promote 2017 first-round pick Patrick Mahomes next season.
Or they’ll take another shot in the draft, with a chance to get one of the four blue-chip quarterbacks likely to be available in 2018 — Sam Darnold of USC, Josh Rosen of UCLA, Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield of Oklahoma or Josh Allen of Wyoming.
McCown may or may not want to return in 2018, and there’s no guarantee he’ll even go back to the Jets. But they certainly benefited from his presence this season, and the fact that he won five games with this young roster is a testament to how positive an impact he had on this team, especially when you compare his level of play to what Petty put forth.
Maccagnan and Bowles owe McCown a tremendous debt of gratitude. Without him, the GM and the coach likely would be looking elsewhere for work next season.
Petty is a diligent young quarterback who badly wants to be an NFL starter. But there’s a yawning gap between want-to and able-to at this level, and he hasn’t shown the ability to run an offense with the kind of consistency necessary to make it in the pros.
Heck, he couldn’t even put his helmet on the right way before Sunday’s game at frigid Gillette Stadium. He had to remove a ski cap to put on his helmet — a fitting metaphor for a woeful afternoon.
“The last three games, we learned a lot,” Petty said of his run as McCown’s replacement. “For me, three games is invaluable, the experience I got, what I got to see from a quarterback standpoint of things I need to work on in the offseason.”
But no amount of offseason work can realistically get him to the point of being a reliable starter. There were far too many times against the Patriots when he couldn’t execute the most rudimentary passes, and it’s unreasonable to expect that to change with another few months of practice.
Even Petty is unsure whether the Jets will give him that chance. “Of course you wonder,” he said about his future with the team. “That’s human. I think instinct is to wonder. Obviously, I want to be here. You put your best product on the field and you try to put your best foot forward.”
The product Sunday was unacceptable, which also speaks volumes about the Jets’ opinion of Hackenberg. With Petty producing only three points in the first half and Bowles still refusing to put Hackenberg out there just to see what might happen, that pretty much tells you all you need to know about the team’s evaluation of him.
Bowles offered some mumbo-jumbo about this not being Hackenberg’s time. Nonsense. The coaches simply don’t trust him, and they didn’t want to waste anyone’s time putting him in the lineup.
Time to move on from all of the quarterbacks and find a different — and better — answer in 2018.