FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — It’s anyone’s guess if Christian Hackenberg is any good. And it seems the Jets have no plans to unveil their rookie quarterback until the summer of 2017.
A day after starter Bryce Petty was placed on injured reserve with a torn labrum in his left shoulder, Todd Bowles announced that Ryan Fitzpatrick will start the Jets’ season finale Sunday against the Buffalo Bills (7-8) at Metlife Stadium.
“He’s the backup, now he’s the starter,” the coach said Tuesday, adding that Hackenberg won’t see action unless Fitzpatrick gets injured or the “game gets out of hand.”
“ . . . We’re not going to gain or lose nothing by looking at Christian, or not, this game.”
Fitzpatrick, 34, had the worst year of his career, throwing 17 interceptions and 10 touchdowns with a 2-8 record as a starter. But the front office, and some players, believe the veteran is a better option than Hackenberg, a second-round pick who’s been inactive all season.
“Why does he have to play now?” asked veteran receiver Brandon Marshall, who was a vocal Fitzpatrick supporter during the quarterback’s drawn-out contract negotiations during free agency. “It’s the last game of the season. He’ll have a whole offseason to get better and work hard. Why would you want to do that to that kid?”
Marshall, 32, insisted that Fitzpatrick still gives them the best chance to win. “Some people may say or write, ‘Let’s see what the future holds.’ Well, there is future for us right now,” he said. “ . . . When you have seasons like this, and I’ve been through many of them, people get fired, players get traded, players get cut. That’s how this business is. I want the best chance to win.”
According to ESPN, the last NFL team to draft a quarterback in the first or second round and not play him as a rookie was the 2008 Green Bay Packers, who made Brian Brohm, the 56th overall pick, their third-stringer behind Aaron Rodgers and Matt Flynn. The Jets clearly don’t have a Rodgers in their QB room, and, apparently, they don’t think their draft-pick is ready for a taste of NFL action.
They entered training camp with four quarterbacks, including Geno Smith, who became their starter in Week 7 after Fitzpatrick was benched outright for the fist time. After Smith tore his right ACL in his first start, Fitzpatrick was again promoted. The veteran was later benched for Petty, who made his first career start in a 9-6 loss to the Rams on Nov. 13. But with the team 3-7, Bowles went back to Fitzpatrick after the bye week and named him their starter the next two games. Fitzpatrick was again benched for Petty at halftime of their blowout loss to the Colts and Bowles made Petty their starter for the final four games.
And now, the Jets are potentially one big hit away from possibly playing all four of their quarterbacks in one season. “We may need five,” joked Bowles, though he said they’re not considering adding another.
He stressed that “you don’t leapfrog people to start playing” but he did keep the door open, albeit slightly, on a potential Hackenberg sighting. “Anybody that hasn’t played won’t be ready until they play,” Bowles said, adding that all rookie quarterbacks “have mechanical problems.”
“ . . . We had a plan for him going in when we drafted him, he’s taken a lot of reps in practice, if Fitz gets hurt, he’ll go in there and play. If Fitz doesn’t, he won’t play. But he’s ready to play and he’ll be ready to play.”
Asked if the rookie could see fourth-quarter mop-up duty, Bowles said: “I don’t know. I’ll see how the game goes. He might or he may not.”