An emotional Josh McCown knew.
The tears the Jets quarterback shed Sunday in Denver revealed everything. A second opinion confirmed his biggest fear Monday, that he would need season-ending surgery to repair a broken left hand.
McCown was injured in the third quarter of a 23-0 loss to the Broncos, and although X-rays at the stadium indicated a broken hand, he wanted to make sure. That second opinion was enough for the Jets to move on from McCown and start Bryce Petty on Sunday against the Saints.
It’s a wrenching ending to the 38-year-old’s career season, with personal highs in touchdown passes (18), passing yards (2,926) and completion percentage (.673). He also tied a career high with 13 starts.
McCown was so respected in the locker room that he was nominated for the Art Rooney Sportsmanship Award, and on Monday, it was announced that he is one of eight finalists.
“He’s awesome,” center Wesley Johnson said. “We love him.”
McCown took on a leadership role starting in OTAs, when he conducted players-only throwing sessions. He put his ego aside when the Jets gave Petty and Christian Hackenberg more snaps in training camp and preseason. McCown won the job because he was better, and he proved that throughout the season.
“He meant a lot,” Todd Bowles said. “Leadership meant a lot. From the time he walked in the door, just always doing the right thing and saying the right thing and helping everybody on the team, not just offensively but defensively as well. Not to mention the fact he made plays on the field that helped us out. And he lined everybody up, especially the new receivers coming in having to play right away on short notice. He made everybody effective.
“We got to move on from there.”
Yes, the business of the NFL always moves on.
Petty, a 2015 fourth-round pick from Baylor, started four games last season, going 1-3 with a .564 completion percentage, three touchdown passes and seven interceptions. This year, he was No. 2 behind McCown for all but the season opener, just waiting for his time to play. Now he will get it.
“He’s been taking notes on the sidelines,” Bowles said. “He understands it was going to come. It’s an opportunity for him. He’ll get the majority of the reps this week and he’ll be well prepared to play Sunday. He will have an opportunity to step up and make plays, and we look forward to seeing him play.”
Petty hasn’t gotten many reps with the first team while quarterbacking the scout team along with Hackenberg. But that won’t hurt his confidence.
“I’m ready to go. We prepare and work,” Petty said Sunday. “That’s the tough thing about being the backup: limited reps. So now we’ll get some reps, and from a mental standpoint and a preparation standpoint, nothing will change.”
Bowles said the offense will remain the same for Petty. Finding chemistry with the wide receivers is the biggest issue.
Petty completed 2 of 9 passes for 14 yards against Denver. He replaced McCown in the second quarter after the starter suffered a hip pointer. His first pass was a 7-yard completion. His second was a 12-yarder that was negated by a penalty. Petty returned in the third quarter after McCown went out for good.
“His energy is high, his presence in the huddle is there,” Jermaine Kearse said. “I feel he has the ability to make tough throws and to extend the play. That’s one thing that’s going to come in handy for us.”