DETROIT — Christian Hackenberg got the most meaningful audition of his fledgling career with the Jets in Saturday night’s preseason game against the Lions.
It did not go well.
With the Jets trying to get a read on whether the second-year quarterback is ready to take over as their starter, Hackenberg put on the kind of performance that suggests the answer is a resounding no.
At least for now.
Hackenberg, who started over veteran Josh McCown (who did not play Saturday night) and third-year quarterback Bryce Petty, struggled through almost the entire first half before being replaced by Petty.
After looking decent in last week’s 7-3 win over the Titans, when he was 18-for-25 for 127 yards, Hackenberg looked tentative and overmatched through most of his playing time against the Lions. He completed 2 of 6 passes for 14 yards, no touchdowns and no interceptions, finishing with a rating of 42.4 in a 16-6 loss at Ford Field.
With Hackenberg at quarterback this preseason, the Jets have not scored a point.
His two biggest plays were a 12-yard scramble up the middle and a swing pass to running back Bilal Powell that went for 17 yards. By the time Hackenberg gave way to Petty after the first half, the Jets were down 13-0.
Despite the poor performance, coach Todd Bowles wasn’t willing to concede that he has made a decision on his Week 1 starter. Asked if it is reasonable to assume that McCown will start against the Bills, Bowles said, “Not at this point.” He did not elaborate but suggested that all three of his quarterbacks will play in next week’s preseason game against the Giants.
In fairness to Hackenberg, the Jets’ second-round pick in the 2016 draft, he wasn’t the only culprit in the team’s inability to put any points on the board against the Lions’ starters. Still tinkering with the offensive line, the Jets rotated six different players into the mix, and the run-blocking and pass-blocking were consistently poor.
“We didn’t give him a chance,” Bowles said. “[Hackenberg] had a lot of pressure on him. I don’t think anybody can have a chance when you block like that.”
On Hackenberg’s first dropback of the night, he was whacked from his right side by defensive end Cornelius Washington, who was unblocked on the play. It’s uncertain whose fault it was that Washington broke free. Right tackle Brandon Shell took an inside angle and Powell didn’t get over in time to block Washington. Hackenberg fumbled on the play, but the ball was recovered by guard James Carpenter.
Hackenberg finally produced a first down on his fourth possession, scrambling 12 yards up the middle after getting heavy pressure. He hit Powell in the left flat, and the running back got to midfield before being pushed out of bounds. But three plays later, on third-and-8 from the Lions’ 48, the ball slipped out of Hackenberg’s hands as he looked to throw down the middle. The pass was called incomplete, and the Jets were forced to punt.
“I thought it was a good learning experience,” Hackenberg said after the game. “They’re professionals over there, too, and they did a good job game- planning. Overall, we have to stay in manageable situations. You have to experience these things and you have to be able to bounce back. I’m always trying to look forward.”