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Josh McCown has been leader by example for Jets

Jets quarterback Josh McCown passes  against the  Falcons

Jets quarterback Josh McCown passes  against the  Falcons at MetLife Stadium on Oct. 29, 2017. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

It seems from the moment Josh McCown signed a one-year contract with the Jets, people were trying to replace him.

He’s the bridge to the young, franchise quarterback the Jets want to present to their fan base. During the summer, two young quarterbacks, Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg, tried to beat out McCown for the gig and failed.

What we’ve seen through the first two months of the season is McCown’s best year as a 15-year pro.

When the Jets try to end their three-game losing streak Thursday night against the Bills at MetLife Stadium, McCown will lead the team, regardless if anybody likes it or not.

“He’s been valuable from a knowledge standpoint for a lot of the younger guys,” coach Todd Bowles said. “Again, great guy off the field. He’s been great on the field, directing traffic especially since we’ve had a lot of new guys come in to play right away. He’s been paramount that way, helping those guys get acclimated.”

McCown is second in the NFL in completion percentage at 70.5 percent and has the 10th best quarterback rating at 95.3. He is the only NFL quarterback to complete at least 60 percent of his passes in every game this season and he’s compiled a quarterback rating of at least 100 in five games. Only the Chiefs’ Alex Smith has done it more with six.

The 38-year old McCown’s completion percentage is more than 15 percent higher than his career average of 60.3.

Should McCown beat the Bills, it would mark his fourth victory as a starter, the most since 2004, when he was 6-7 with Arizona.

“It’s been incredible,” center Wesley Johnson said of McCown. “He’s had a great season by himself. He makes our job easier, he commands the huddle well and that helps an offense so much.”

Said running back Matt Forte: “He commands the huddle, like Fitz.”

Fitz is Ryan Fitzpatrick, whom the Jets had for two seasons in which he went 13-14 as a starter with no playoff appearances. When Fitzpatrick was not retained after the 2016 season, the front office tried to find the next quarterback. Of course, they had Petty, a 2015 fourth-round pick and Hackenberg, the 2016 second-round selection.

But McCown was signed as the steward until they were ready. During the preseason, Petty outplayed Hackenberg but neither could beat out McCown. The experience level was too much to overcome for the young quarterbacks.

During the course of his career, McCown got spot starts, was signed to mentor young players until they’re ready and was a calming influence.

As part of Bowles’ environment change in the locker room, he needed a veteran who has been respected virtually every place he goes. Bowles looked for players who preached unity in the locker room regardless of wins and losses. McCown was so respected in Cleveland last season that coach Hue Jackson didn’t want him to leave. Jackson asked McCown to remain in the organization as a quarterbacks coach. McCown declined with the desire to keep playing and is looking over his shoulder at a player he has impressed..

“Josh is playing really good football,” Hackenberg said. “Just being in the same room as him, seeing things, watching him play, it’s cool seeing how well he’s playing. He’s operating, completing balls at a really high clip like [70] percent, the best rate I’ve ever seen.”

McCown isn’t the Jets’ quarterback of the future. That would be Petty, Hackenberg or a top college prospect, if the Jets can draft one.

If anything, for this one season, McCown is what the Jets need, despite the bumps and bruises that’s taken a toll on his body.

“This is part of it.” he said. “It’s unfortunate, nobody writes it up like this — you don’t want to lose three in a row, but this is a great opportunity to go play on Thursday night. I’m excited, it’s going to be fun and it’s a division game and you want to get them back — they got us the first game. So no, I’m not tired, I’m not down at all.”

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