By Ernie Palladino
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Todd Bowles doesn’t want to believe he has created a quarterback controversy for himself.
He sort of had to.
With Ryan Fitzpatrick stinking it up in every way possible, including an end zone interception at the end of the third quarter, Bowles touched off what will become the center of attention for at least the next several games when he replaced his 33-year-old Harvard guy with — ugh — Geno Smith with eight minutes to go in the fourth quarter on Monday night in Arizona.
Sure, the Jets were down 28-3 to the Cardinals, and University of Phoenix Stadium was rocking so hard that Fitzpatrick’s line could barely hear his cadence. Not that it mattered with the way they blocked for both the run and pass. The way that group was manhandled, Bruce Arians’ defense would have gotten the best of the Jets’ guys up front in an empty parking lot.
And Fitzpatrick made zero significant plays, even when the pass rushers didn’t harass him.
All were good reasons for Bowles to pull him for Smith, if only to preserve his No. 1 guy’s mental and physical health.
Only now, Bowles has everybody anticipating, looking, waiting for that next shoe to drop. And since this 1-5 season has all but been consigned to the trash bin, when and if that sneaker does hit the ground, be it in the middle of the game against the Ravens this Sunday or at some point thereafter, it will be snuggled around the foot of the one guy few should welcome out there.
With a fumble and interception, Smith not only took the opportunity to reveal himself yet again as nothing more than the bungler of the past, he also proved with his actions before getting into the game to be anything but a good teammate.
Having admitted publicly that all the losing has made him antsy for field time, Smith’s petulant, caught-on-camera outburst as D.J. Swearinger came out of the end zone with Fitzpatrick’s errant pass indicated he has yet to grow out of the immaturity that got him socked in the mouth last year.
Nice way to show up a struggling teammate, right?
But Bowles is sort of stuck with him. If Fitzpatrick can’t get things turned around during what should amount to a relative cruise of a schedule compared to the first six weeks, it’s not going to be Bryce Petty who steps in. It’s going to be Smith, if for no other reason than finances.
Smith comes out of his rookie contract after the season, and the Jets will probably want to make sure they’re not losing a potential franchise savior if they let him walk out the door.
Not that Smith has pulled off many miracles, but one never knows.
Also, they have little choice in replacements. Petty isn’t ready. Christian Hackenberg still has the “project” sign attached to his jersey.
Bowles’ initial assertion that Fitzpatrick will remain his starter was thrown into confusion Tuesday when he backtracked a bit. Even if he does stick with Fitz, the leash is now much shorter. If the Jets’ offense remains as uncompetitive as it has been in scoring three touchdowns in four games, including Charone Peake’s fluky runback of Fitzpatrick’s fumble against Seattle, the natives will amp up their calls for a more permanent change.
Unfortunately, for various reasons, Smith represents that change.
Making the switch Monday was something Bowles felt he had to do.
But whether he admits it or not, he touched off a quarterback controversy that can only grow.
Let the fun begin.
Follow Ernie on Twitter at @ErniePalladino