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Palladino: Beating Bucs Could Change Jets’ Focus For 2017

By Ernie Palladino
» More Ernie Palladino Columns

While Ben McAdoo talks the insanity of his floundering team ripping off a bunch of wins in a row, Todd Bowles can contemplate the gravity of his squad’s game Sunday against the Buccaneers.

Hard as it may be to believe, the Jets have reached a crossroads game. The team predicted for two, one, or even a 2017 goose egg has four wins already, and a victory over an eminently beatable squad now led by their former quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick will send the Jets into the bye at a mind-blowing 5-5.

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With that comes a week off to bathe in the happy realization that a playoff spot, though unlikely given the upcoming schedule, is at least possible.

Jets quarterback Josh McCown looks to pass during the first quarter against the Buffalo Bills at MetLife Stadium on Nov. 2, 2017. McCown ended up running for a touchdown on the play. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

For McAdoo, that would sound like an exercise in extravagance as outsiders accelerate talk of tossing away the next eight games to ensure a draft spot that would yield Eli Manning’s ultimate successor.

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That, of course, was supposed to be the Jets’ pick in April as they continue their eternal search for a franchise quarterback.

Instead, a win Sunday would not only put them one step further from those plans. Moreover, it would at least push back, and possibly cancel, any plans Mike Maccagnan and Bowles had of performing any due diligence of Christian Hackenberg.

They would have to stick with Josh McCown. That’s not a bad thing as far as this season goes. He clearly gives the Jets their best chance to win. Despite a couple of glaring mistakes, he still ranks 12th among NFL quarterbacks in passing yards (1,980) and is second in completion percentage (70.4). He’s not flashy, but he has been productive enough to throw 13 touchdowns against seven interceptions.

Nobody will ever mistake McCown for Tom Brady or, on the younger end of the age spectrum, Carson Wentz, but he’s managed things well enough to keep a burgeoning defense fresh and ferocious.

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To switch off to Hackenberg after the bye would sacrifice the remainder of the season. And if the Jets were in any other position, that might be an acceptable move. But given their current state — coming off a 5-11 season and suffering through non-winning records in five of the last six seasons — the temptation to win every game possible would serve them best.

Even a loss in Tampa would not change things dramatically. At 4-6, the Jets could still make a run at a wild card. They’d have to win five out of six, and likely steal that season finale from the Pats at Gillette Stadium. And even then there would be no promises.

But the possibility would still be there. And that means McCown.

Going forward, that would also mean McCown for another year. It could mean drafting a lesser quarterback than Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen, Josh Allen, or Lamar Jackson, or continuing the wait for Hackenberg to approach usefulness.

Either way, continued winning puts all those possibilities on the table.

Best to win now and roll the dice on what will then be a 39-year-old quarterback at the helm for 2018. There will be other college quarterbacks in other drafts.

The Jets are in a good situation — a lot better one than what’s happening to New York’s NFC entry.

A win Sunday at Raymond James Stadium opens a whole new world for the Jets. It would narrow their focus from long-range to the immediate.

And that’s a good thing for a franchise that for too long has waited for next year.

Please follow Ernie on Twitter at @ErniePalladino

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