Calling it a quarterback “controversy” is not quite right. Not with two of the three contestants being among the most amiable, upbeat people in recent NFL history and the third a rookie who always expresses respect for his elders.
Nonetheless, someone from among Josh McCown, Teddy Bridgewater and Sam Darnold must start for the Jets when they visit the Lions on Sept. 10, and that decision overshadows all others for coach Todd Bowles.
The smart money is on Darnold, the No. 3 overall pick in the draft. But his uneven performance against the Redskins on Thursday night and another promising outing for Bridgewater has kept things interesting.
Asked after the Jets’ 15-13 loss at FedEx Field if the matter had become cloudier, Bowles said, “It’s already been cloudy. That’s never changed . . . It’s a tough choice. I have two more games to play. We’ll go from there.”
Had he hoped for more clarity by now? “Not really,” he said, “because I like all three guys. I knew that.”
Darnold is 21-for-29 for 158 yards, one touchdown and an interception. Bridgewater is 17-for-23 for 212 yards, two TDs and an INT. McCown completed his only pass for 4 yards.
But this decision will not be based on statistics. There is much to consider, first among them Darnold’s development as a potential franchise quarterback, which is why if he looks ready, there will be pressure to throw him into the Lions’ den.
Bowles said his “main factor” will be the man who gives the Jets the best chance to win. “Look, we’re going to play the best guy,” he said. “We’ll make our evaluations and take our notes. I’m not going to sit here and evaluate them second-by-second every day in public.”
Bridgewater intentionally sought out hits to test the left knee that he injured two years ago, temporarily derailing his career, and emerged unscathed.
Asked about the competition to start, he said, “For me, it’s all about opportunity. That’s my mindset. I’m presented with an opportunity to continue playing football . . . The competition will take care of itself.”
The Jets have an additional reason to want Bridgewater to excel; he could become a valuable trade chip.
Darnold figures to get another start against the Giants after an up-and-down outing against the Redskins. The downs were modest. . One of his three possessions ended on a sack when he preserved a field-goal try by not forcing a pass into danger. Another ended on a forced fourth-and-1 pass that was intercepted, a situation with little downside to a risky throw.
Darnold mostly was pleased with his first start and said he continues to make strides in managing the game. He said his next goal is learning to react better to “hot” reads when opponents bring strong pressure.
“It was fun to be able to feel really, really comfortable with every single play call,” he said. “I felt like sometimes when J.B. [coordinator Jeremy Bates] was starting to call the play, I knew exactly what play he was going to, which was a good feeling.”
Nothing has seemed to rattle Darnold, including dealing with the media. He said it has been a revelation to focus on football after having to be in class regularly as a collegian. “All football all the time is really helping me out a lot,” he said.
But he said the thing that has helped him most is listening and watching McCown and Bridgewater. “They’re always super-calm on the sideline and not freaking out,” he said.
That could well be their role during the season. “We’ll see what happens in the third [preseason game],” Bowles said, “and then I’ll figure out who plays in the fourth one.”