CLEVELAND — Bryce Petty seemed like the obvious choice all along.
But as the days drew nearer to Todd Bowles’ decision, the young quarterback refused to let his mind consider either outcome.
“I really don’t operate on that kind of mindset of fairness. Life’s not fair,” Petty said with a smile after Thursday’s practice. “If you want something, you’ve got to work for it. You want to try and minimize any doubt of ‘man, is this the guy or not?’ That’s what I’m trying to do.”
When Ryan Fitzpatrick resumed his role as the Jets’ starting quarterback in the wake of Geno Smith’s season-ending knee injury last week, it opened the door for either Petty or rookie draft pick Christian Hackenberg to be the team’s new No. 2. And within a matter of days, Petty went from being the third guy in a crowded four-man quarterback room to fielding one-on-one interviews in rapid succession in his corner of the locker room.
By Friday, Bowles had made his decision — but he refused to reveal it to reporters.
Conventional wisdom points to Petty, a 2015 fourth-round pick of general manager Mike Maccagnan’s, because of his extra year of NFL experience over Hackenberg, the team’s second-round pick last spring. The Jets’ offseason plan was to make this a redshirt season for the former Penn State quarterback, and they’ve stayed true to that mission, keeping Hackenberg inactive all season while other NFL neophytes were being thrown into action by design or circumstance.
Like his competition, Petty has yet to start a regular-season game. He also was sidelined for a month with a shoulder injury and didn’t return to practice full-time until Oct. 13. Even so, getting passed over for Hackenberg would speak volumes about the 25-year-old’s place within the organization.
“I’m not worried about what’s fair. I’m not worried about what the fans want or whoever,” Petty said. “To me, it’s about coming in here and being a better quarterback than I was yesterday. And that way, I’m prepared mentally and it’s not like a pity thing if it’s not me. Because as soon as you take that mindset, then you’ve lost on all fronts.
“This game’s funny,” he said, smiling again. “I’ve been in it a short time, but opportunities are few and far between. And if you don’t have the right mindset when your opportunity comes, it’s squandered. And then who knows if you’re going to get another one?”
For the first time in seven weeks, Petty said he’s back to taking practice reps in the Jets’ offense and not solely scout-team snaps, in which he mimics opposing quarterbacks. And while he was “knocking the dust off” this past week, he was getting reacquainted with the responsibility of calling plays and executing them.
“It sounds dumb, but it’s been a while since I’ve done it,” he said. “Especially towards the end of preseason, I was in a rhythm of doing things kind of second nature almost. And it’s like you kind of have to get back in that mode.
“Because in scout team, it’s like, ‘Hey,’ ” Petty said, raising a sheet of paper in the air and pointing to it, “ ‘this is what you’re doing.’ And when we do our stuff, you’ve got to call a play, and you have to have a mental process with it and understand where you’re going, be able to read defenses and things like that. I’d definitely say that’s specifically what I’ve been working on. Getting back into the swing of that mode.”
Petty said his unexpected battle with Hackenberg isn’t “a cutthroat deal” by any means, but “it’s definitely competitive.”
“Collectively, when we’re good in that [quarterback] room, the team takes advantage of that. And so it doesn’t matter who’s in, who’s going,” Petty said. “My mindset is to help whoever it is out there. That’s how Fitz approached me being in the room last year.”
But the Baylor star refused to consider either outcome of the quarterback battle.
“Hypotheticals are something I tried to do away with a long time ago,” he said, “just because, if you wrap your mind around the things that coulda, woulda, shoulda [happened], you’re not in reality. The reality is: I’ve got a chance to prove myself as the No. 2 quarterback . . . So that’s what I plan to do.”