The Jets have the same record as the Patriots in the AFC East for now, but reality is rushing toward them as surely as Eagles linebacker Joe Walker, who on Thursday night nearly separated Josh McCown from the starting quarterback job.
Ready or not, the opener looms next Sunday against the Bills, with a roster to be tweaked this weekend via cuts – and signing other teams’ cuts – but that remains a concern at the most critical position in the sport.
At the moment McCown occupies it, despite his age (38) and career record (18-42, including 2-20 in the past three seasons), because Bowles believes he is the mostly likely candidate to win in Orchard Park.
After doubling his previous preseason work by playing in two series against the Eagles – and absorbing a shot to the midsection from Walker that knocked the wind out of him – McCown said his preparation for the Bills had begun.
“My attention has been on them already,” he said. “It was kind of one eye on Buffalo and one eye, well, not really on Philly, but more on watching Buffalo and getting our mind on them. That’s the goal.”
So make that two eyes on Buffalo.
“It’s the opener; it’s a division opponent,” McCown said. “It’s a huge game. We want to start this thing right. We’ll put our best foot forward.”
One reason the Jets acquired McCown as a bridge to Christian Hackenberg and / or Bryce Petty is that he is a well-liked old pro with a feel for the situation.
That was evident on Thursday, when he took a knee on the field as medical personnel looked him over – not because he could not reach the sideline but because he wanted to give Hackenberg time to warm up.
McCown also knows how to address delicately what the rest of us are thinking about the offense.
“It’s easy to obviously look at the circumstances and you have new pieces and pieces that are gone,” he said. “But when you’re in this in our situation, we don’t operate under those circumstances. We don’t operate in that, ‘Oh, well, we don’t have this guy or we don’t have that.’ We don’t have excuses.
“There’s a way we expect to play and we’re going to do that. So I put a lot of pressure and expectation on myself to get that done . . . We’re all going to do it together.”
The Jets would have liked to see Hackenberg prove this summer that if he is not ready to start, he at least is ready to back up. But Bryce Petty outplayed him in preseason and coach Todd Bowles would not identify a No. 2 after the game.
The players would not bite, either. “That’s for Coach to decide,” Hackenberg said.
“That’s for [Bowles] to decide,” Petty said.
Complicating the decision is a sprained MCL Petty suffered against the Giants that kept him out of the Eagles game.
First things first, though. Bowles and his staff must get the roster to 53 by 4 p.m. Saturday, after which there could be further cuts to make room for other teams’ rejects. In previous decades cuts were made in stages, not all at once.
“There are going to be some tough ones,” Bowles said. “Having to cut all of them at one time is going to be tough.”