Josh McCown has been part of so many situations in his 14 previous NFL seasons and a year in the United Football League. So what’s one more unconventional circumstance for a 38-year-old who has experienced just about everything a quarterback can face?
Never mind that McCown spent just about the entire offseason as the Jets’ presumptive starter ahead of Christian Hackenberg and Bryce Petty. Forget that he took snaps as the No. 1 for the first series of the preseason and hasn’t seen the field ever since. And who cares if his practice snaps have been reduced to next to nothing the past two weeks?
Regardless of what decision Todd Bowles announces this week about his starting quarterback for the regular season, McCown is prepared for any eventuality. Starter or backup, he is on board and will call upon every ounce of the large well of resourcefulness he has built up over the years.
“Regardless of game reps in the preseason or whatever, the way this league works is you have to be ready to go,” McCown said after Saturday night’s 32-31 loss to the Giants. “I have spent a number of years in my career in different situations, and when you’re a backup, you don’t get reps and you have to go in there and play, so I’ll rely on the ton of reps that we had in the spring and getting good work during the week in practice. So I’ll be ready if called upon.”
Bowles has been highly secretive about his thought process throughout the offseason and preseason, and his decision to start Hackenberg the last two games surprised all but a handful of people within the organization. Even the quarterbacks weren’t told about the rotation until the day before the game.
Hackenberg has been given the majority of snaps in preseason, ostensibly to let Bowles and coordinator John Morton determine whether he is ready to be the Week 1 starter. The evidence, especially the last two weeks, says he is not there yet. He had two interceptions returned for touchdowns and didn’t look in command enough to be trusted when the final score matters. At 22 and learning his second system in two NFL seasons, he’s just not ready.
Petty gradually has shown improvement through camp and appears to have gotten a much better grasp of the complicated West Coast offense Morton is installing, but it’s uncertain whether he has done enough in the coaches’ eyes to merit the No. 1 job.
Potentially complicating Petty’s situation: He reportedly sprained the medial collateral ligament in his left knee Saturday night. ESPN reported that the injury is not serious and that Petty might be able to play in Thursday night’s preseason finale against the Eagles.
McCown makes the most sense, if for no other reason than his experience gives the Jets their best chance to compete. That may not fit into the narrative that this season should be all about losing to get in position to find the best quarterback in next year’s draft. But that’s not what the Jets players want, and certainly not what the coaches want if they’re interested in keeping their jobs.
McCown already has shown the Jets everything his reputation suggested when he signed a one-year deal. A consummate professional who works diligently, has terrific leadership skills and won’t become a distraction over playing time, he’s as steady as they come.
His 18-42 record as a starter reflects his shortcomings. But he has persevered through difficult situations and can be functional for a team that needs every bit of help it can get. He’s from the “hold the fort’’ school of backups, a guy who can be serviceable until there is a better alternative in place. And this seems like the right moment for him.
Maybe the Jets have seen enough promise in Petty, but he hasn’t played against the starters in preseason, and there may be reluctance to go with him right away. That doesn’t mean the Jets can’t revisit the idea of playing him more as the season goes on. Right here, right now, going with McCown seems to be the most sensible alternative.
“I came here to play,” he said. “I have the desire to be a starter, just like I’m sure the other two guys do. I feel like the [coaches’] evaluation, it’s up to them, but yeah, I feel like I’ve done everything I could in the situations I was given to give them the ability to make a fair evaluation, so we’ll see how it goes.”
He’ll soon find out whether the coaches agree.