Josh McCown could barely get through half of the first quarter before taking a hit that sent him to the ground in pain.
Anointed as the Jets’ starting quarterback three days earlier, he took a shot to the ribs from Eagles linebacker Joe Walker on his seventh play from scrimmage. Given the fact that he hadn’t even made it to Week 1 without getting hit like this, surely McCown must have said to himself: Really?
“No, I couldn’t, because I didn’t have any air to say, ‘Really,’ ” McCown said after his final tuneup before the regular-season opener against the Bills in Buffalo on Sept. 10. “It was more ‘really’ because I have that rib thing and there’s like a sliver of a place where you could get hit that would actually bother you, and he actually hit that spot. Really? How does that happen?”
McCown was able to laugh this one off and chalk it up as a close call. He merely had the wind knocked out of him and missed only one play before completing a field-goal drive on his second and final series.
Crisis averted at the end of what turned into an unconventional preseason, even if the end result was what we expected all along.
For McCown, it was a circuitous journey to the starting job. After starting the offseason and training camp as the No. 1 quarterback, he eventually took a back seat so the coaches could get a more definitive read about whether Christian Hackenberg or Bryce Petty should be considered as the opening day quarterback. The evaluation process was tricky, though, and it meant that McCown wouldn’t get the usual dose of reps with the first-team offense in preseason games.
Before Thursday night, he had played only one series — the first one in the first preseason game against the Titans. It was an effortless touchdown drive by the 15-year NFL veteran, but it was his final appearance in a game until this week, when coach Todd Bowles announced that McCown will be his starter heading into the season.
Starters rarely play in the final preseason game, but he needed the work in advance of the regular-season opener. It was only two series with the starting offense, but that would have to do. He was 6-for-8 for 57 yards and a 94.3 rating. “It was good to get that one [hit] over with and move on, and thankfully it wasn’t anything serious,” McCown said. “I look forward to playing next week.”
McCown was glad to at least get some rhythm going with his starting offense. “Second series, we were able to move the ball down the field effectively,” he said. “Obviously, you want to finish drives with touchdowns, but the main thing was for us to go out there with that unit and play with tempo, get in and out of the huddle, move fast, move the ball down the field. I think we were able to capture that with the second drive, and that’s good for us. That will give us some momentum for next week.”
It has been an emotional week for McCown, who was delighted to get the starting job but whose thoughts also were with the people of Texas dealing with Hurricane Harvey.
“You look at what’s going on in my home state, back home in Texas,” he said. “Just looking at people displaced and just what people are going through. It makes you thankful, let alone to get an opportunity at this age to be an opening day starter. Just humbled and thankful for this opportunity. I look forward to making the most of it.”
He was particularly uplifted by the fundraising efforts of Texans defensive end J.J. Watt, who started with a goal of $200,000 but has raised $12 million and counting. “It’s awesome. It’s unbelievable. My hat’s off,” McCown said. “J.J., thank you so much, because my wife and I both have extended family that have been severely impacted by it, so we appreciate that. We’ve given to J.J. and there are tons of organizations to give to and it’s a great opportunity to help somebody else out that’s in need. I do believe that in times like this, this can be a true reflection of who we are.”
He’s eager to see what the Jets have in a season in which few outsiders give them much of a chance. “There’s a high bar that we set for ourselves,” he said. “When you’re in this situation, there’s a way we expect to play, and we’re going to do that. I put a lot of pressure and expectation on myself to get that done, and the beauty is that we’re all going to do it together.”
On to Buffalo.