FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — It took 10 days of OTAs, nearly a month of training camp and three preseason games, but the Jets finally have a Week 1 quarterback.
After months of rampant speculation, coach Todd Bowles announced what everyone first assumed when the team signed Josh McCown: The 38-year-old veteran, entering his 15th NFL season with his eighth team, will get the ball on Sept. 10 against the Bills in Buffalo.
“He has the best grasp of the offense right now,” Bowles said. “The other two guys are [getting] significantly better but he’s had the best grasp.”
Quarterbacks coach Jeremy Bates added that McCown brought “experience, poise, leadership, and confidence. He’s played this game, he understands the west coast system, and at the end of the day, he gives us the best chance to win.”
It is, in ways, a disappointment for those who hope Christian Hackenberg can one day be a franchise quarterback. Entering his sophomore season, Hackenberg has yet to play in a regular-season NFL game and now, in a year where he could have finally grasped the starting position, he faltered. He started two of the preseason games and in the final week of training camp, received the most reps with the first-team offense. Still, after Saturday’s performance against the Giants, where he threw two pick-6s before getting pulled for Bryce Petty, the Jets had no choice but to pull back the reins.
“It wasn’t disappointing,” Bowles said of Hackenberg’s progression. “Obviously, Christian was the only one who hadn’t played in the regular-season game. The other two have played in there, so they’re a little bit more poised. Everything he was seeing . . . he saw it for the first or second time. He got better mentally . . . so it wasn’t disappointing, it’s a learning experience.”
Petty, who at times seemed like an afterthought in this three-man race, distinguished himself with more regularity than the Jets’ 2016 second-round pick, but it wasn’t quite enough to snatch the position from McCown — this, despite the fact that he participated in only one preseason series so far and received limited practice reps last week, in what was essentially Hackenberg and Petty’s final chance to prove that they deserved to get the call. In Petty’s defense, he didn’t play with the first-team offense this preseason but did manage to throw for 250 yards and an eye-opening three touchdowns passes in a thwarted comeback against the Giants.
Petty sustained a Grade 1 MCL sprain in the final two minutes of that game, but the injury is not considered serious and Bowles said he hoped to have him back for Thursday’s preseason finale against the Eagles. The team has not decided on their backup, he said, but they may make that choice sometime next week.
Bates said that Hackenberg “continues to get better as a young quarterback.”
“I don’t think you automatically sign a contract and become Peyton Manning,” he said.
Bowles and McCown have said repeatedly that they’re not overly concerned with the scarcity of McCown’s reps in the final week of training camp leading up to Sunday’s loss against the Giants. McCown didn’t play at all that game and took a single scout team rep on the practice day leading up to it. It’s possible he’ll see playing time Thursday in the preseason finale against the Eagles and, Bowles said, he has had plenty of practice away from the media’s eyes.
But though Bowles said that McCown gave the team the best chance to win, it’s still unclear if the Jets have really given their quarterback the best chance to succeed.
McCown will have to contend with fully learning and executing a new offense under coordinator John Morton, and the Jets are weak at the wide receiver position. His primary target is Robby Anderson who, despite impressing for the bulk of training camp, would likely not be a starting wide receiver on any other NFL team. McCown’s response to that is that, as a career backup, he’s made a life out of being able to jump in with limited practice time.
He completed 3 of 4 passes for 75 yards in the preseason opener against the Titans and threw a touchdown pass. He’s also compiled a 2-20 record in his last three seasons, and has a career QB rating of 78.2.
“It’s gonna be fun,” he said. “I’m starting to get myself ready . . . I’m thankful . . . I’m just humbled and thankful for this opportunity and I look forward to making the most of it.”