Tears welled in Josh McCown’s eyes, and the emotion was so overpowering that he couldn’t speak.
With his left hand in a cast and his career in doubt, the Jets quarterback struggled to describe how difficult it was to put his situation in perspective.
He was asked where he was emotionally, and he looked down. Several gut-wrenching seconds passed before he could speak.
“It’s been the best because of the guys,” he said. “Not numbers. It’s been the best because of the group of men in the locker room. I’m just proud to be a part of it. Thankfully, they let me be part of this team, and we’ll see what happens.”
He will undergo more tests on Monday, and he isn’t certain whether he will require surgery. But in his 16th professional season — 15 of them in the NFL — McCown knows deep down this could be it.
If he were 10 years younger and had the benefit of time, he might view this as a temporary setback. But with the Jets 5-8 after Sunday’s 23-0 loss to the Broncos, and given the likelihood that they will be in search of a more permanent answer at the quarterback spot, McCown, 38, understands that he may have played for the last time.
After his emotional news briefing and just before he boarded the team bus, he acknowledged the uncertainty of it all.
“You never know,” he said. “You get flooded with emotions of all those things, because you don’t know. It’s a family decision every year. I don’t know what’s next. The possibility of something coming to an end, you just don’t know. So yeah, it’s just emotional, because I love these guys so much, love these coaches and love this organization. It means a lot to me to be here.”
The Jets gave him one more — and perhaps final — opportunity to be a starting quarterback, and McCown took full advantage. He waited patiently during the preseason to see if the Jets would be willing to take a chance on Christian Hackenberg or Bryce Petty, and when neither distinguished himself, McCown seized on the chance to be a starter again.
He played the best football of his career — with the giant exception of Sunday, when he and the Jets’ entire offense were miserable — and took every single snap in the first 12 games. The Jets were so delighted with his play that they openly pondered the possibility of having him return in 2018, although McCown told Newsday this past week that any decision about next year would involve family concerns. With his wife and children living outside Dallas, he misses them terribly and would consider a return only after giving careful thought to whether he can be apart from them that long.
As the Jets limped to the finish line Sunday, a million thoughts ran through McCown’s mind.
“Just the scope of each year, not wanting to finish this way, and obviously, when you come to this point in your career, each year is so special and precious,” he said. “You don’t want it to end this way.
“You’re thinking through everything, thinking through the game, just thinking through everything. Thinking through 16 years. It’s just emotional. I’m very, very thankful. I hate that it went this way, but I’m just so thankful that I got to be a part of this.”
He knows it may never happen again, that the unexpected ride he enjoyed this season with a team of mostly younger players will not be repeated. After all, there isn’t much of a market for a 39-year-old quarterback who’s been with eight different teams. And with the Jets hopeful of finding a longer-term answer at quarterback, McCown understands how infrequently these opportunities come along.
That’s why this one — most likely his final one — ended in tears.