SANTA CLARA, Calif.
Was it the start of an era, or only a fleeting mid-December amusement starring two bad football teams in a half-empty stadium?
Ask a time-traveling Jets fan from 2020, or maybe next summer.
For now, all we have to go on is what we witnessed from Bryce Petty on Sunday, and it was . . . interesting. And promising. And entertaining.
And it gave us a reason to show up and/or tune in Saturday night when he gets his next try against the visiting Dolphins — more so than another start by Ryan Fitzpatrick, at least.
How did the young quarterback think he played in the Jets’ 23-17 overtime victory over the 49ers? “Overall, hey, we got the win,” he said after his first start of a four-game audition as the Jets play out the string.
But that understates the big role he played in a wild ride of a performance that covered all that is wrong with young quarterbacks in general and Petty in particular, as well as everything that is right about his game — from his major-league arm to his “feistiness,” a word coach Todd Bowles and several players used to describe him.
Oh, and also his resilience. Petty was more nervous than he expected to be and showed it with an interception on his very first pass. One play later, the 49ers scored a touchdown 63 seconds into the game.
How did he get past that cataclysm? “There’s just a lot of football left,” he said. “It’s not going to be my last interception. I know that for a fact.”
He misread what 49ers cornerback Jimmie Ward was up to in covering Quincy Enunwa in the flat. “Things like that, I’ve got to be able to see and recognize and not put our team in that position early on,” he said.
Petty completed several nifty passes in the first half, usually while on the run, as the Jets rallied after falling behind 14-0 just 4:15 into the game. He also regularly held the ball too long and was sacked four times (en route to a total of six). “The first half was probably about as ugly as I could play,” he said.
In the third quarter, though, Petty lofted a 40-yard completion to his favorite receiver, Robby Anderson, to set up a field goal that made it 17-6.
In the fourth, he threw across his body while scrambling to complete a fourth-down pass to Charone Peake. That kept alive a drive that ended with the Jets scoring a TD and a two-point conversion to get within 17-14.
The conversion came on a play on which Petty faked a handoff and twisted his way into the end zone after the 49ers’ Ahmad Brooks grabbed hold of his jersey from behind. “I think that’s the first time a stiff-arm has ever worked in my life,” Petty said.
Then he led a drive for a tying field goal in the final minute of regulation. And then came defining moment time: In overtime, he was flushed to his left, stopped and made an awkward throw in the general direction of Anderson, who came down with it at the 49ers’ 25. “It probably wasn’t the smartest thing to do, throwing across my body like that,” Petty said. But that was pretty much the ballgame.
“His feistiness got better as the game went on,” Bowles said after saying Petty had made “some dangerous throws” and “some gutsy plays.”
True on both counts.
“You have to give him a lot of credit for how hard he fought and how much he sacrificed his body,” Anderson said. “He didn’t let anything knock him down.”
Added Brandon Marshall: “That’s who Bryce is. He’s feisty and he’s fiery and he’s going to give you everything he’s got.”
He went 23-for-35 for 257 yards and got his first win as a starter. It might be his last, or he might be headed for Canton. Or most likely somewhere in between.
At least it seems as if it might be fun finding out.