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With Eric Decker on IR, young Jets receivers asked to stand up

New York Jets wide receiver Eric Decker watches

New York Jets wide receiver Eric Decker watches from the sideline during first half of a game against the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday, Oct. 2, 2016, at MetLife Stadium. Photo Credit: Lee S. Weissman

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Robby Anderson was asked to stand up on Wednesday.

First metaphorically, by guys like Todd Bowles and Ryan Fitzpatrick, who are looking for the Jets young wide receivers to fill the hole left by Eric Decker. And then literally, by Brandon Marshall.

“It definitely hurts,” said Marshall, responding to the news that Decker would undergo season-ending surgery on the torn labrum in his shoulder. “He’s one of the great receivers in the league but we’re more than confident in the younger guys that we have that they’ll make plays, right Robby?”

He looked over to the locker next to him, where Anderson was sitting.

“Stand up,” Marshall said to Anderson, who complied. “Right, Robby? Right?”

“Yeah,” replied Anderson, quietly.

The news came out Wednesday morning like a battering ram to whatever small shred of hope still existed in Florham Park. But as bad as it sounds — Decker will undergo surgery soon, Bowles said, and recovery is about eight months — Marshall was adamant.

“Don’t panic,” he said. “We’re OK. We’re OK. It’s the NFL, it’s not about one guy.”

No, but the last five weeks have put the Jets in an untenable situation — one that isn’t getting any better with the loss of Fitzpatrick’s No. 2 target. They’re 1-4 and will take on the NFC West champion Arizona Cardinals on Monday, including quarterback Carson Palmer, who cleared concussion protocol and participated in practice Wednesday.

Decker has consistently been a stabilizing presence in his two years with Fitzpatrick, and before his final game against the Chiefs — where he played hurt and caught a single pass — Decker caught a scoring pass in 14 of his last 18 games. Decker has missed the last two games, and was finally shut down when the Jets realized “he wasn’t recovering the way we hoped he would,” Bowles said.

“He wasn’t getting any better. He was getting worse so, at some point, he was going to have to get surgery.”

What’s left now is Marshall, who might as well take the field with a neon target painted around the No. 15 on his uniform, Quincy Enunwa, and the kids: Anderson, Jalin Marshall and Charone Peake. Those last three have 14 catches between them in the first five games.

“You can’t replace him with one guy,” Fitzpatrick said. “He had a different skill set than a lot of the guys that we had. Now, knowing that he’s not going to be back, trying to play to the strengths to some of the guys that we have . . . It will be a challenge for us but I think we have the right guys.”

The Jets this year lead the league in interceptions with 10, and are 30th in the league in completion percentage (57.8). Their passer rating is the worst in the NFL, at 64.7.

Enunwa acknowledged that the Jets couldn’t “really replace Decker, he’s his own talent,” but added he’s interested to see what the kids can do.

And Marshall has been in the league too long — seen too much — to give up hope quite yet. Marshall said he’d seen this all before.

“I’ve been in that situation,” he said. “Out of respect for Decker, he’s a big part, he’s a talent in this league, but in the National Football League, the truth is next man up and we have depth on this team. We have depth on the wide receiver position, so we’ll be fine.”

And after all, once upon a time, he was a Robby Anderson — a kid on the Broncos being asked to step up when Javon Walker and Rod Smith went down.

“I got my opportunity and never turned back,” he said. “We’re expecting these same guys like Robby to step up and continue to grow and make big plays . . . I’m excited about what we have.”


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