By Steve Lichtenstein
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Jets coach Todd Bowles responded patiently when he faced the media during Sunday’s postgame press conference that was more riveting than the actual game, a season-ending 26-6 loss in New England.
To their credit, the reporters blistered Bowles regarding his decision to keep quarterback Christian Hackenberg, the Jets’ second-round pick in the 2016 draft, in a full burka in favor of sticking with struggling Bryce Petty.
Unfortunately, Bowles’ explanation sounded more like it came out of the mouth of a kindergarten teacher than the head coach of a professional football team.
“One more time, everyone, two comes before three.”
Those weren’t Bowles’ exact words, but you got the drift. Petty beat Hackenberg in a preseason competition for the role of understudy to starting quarterback Josh McCown, who went on injured reserve after breaking his hand during the Jets’ Week 14 loss in Denver. That means Petty, the number two, got to play before third-string Hackenberg.
“When you don’t win the number two job (in preseason), it’s kind of a foregone conclusion that you’re not going to play,” Bowles said of his decision to deny fans the only player they cared to see perform in Sunday’s meaningless affair.
When asked if any fluctuation during the season was possible, in case, you know, the backup performs horribly, Bowles reiterated, “When you lose the number two job, and you’ve got two people ahead of you, how’s it going to fluctuate when you lost it, honestly?”
My head was spinning, flashing back to the vignette in “This is Spinal Tap” when guitarist Nigel Tufnel was boasting to documentarian Marty DiBergi that his amp was louder than others because the dial “goes to 11” instead of 10. When DiBergi asked why not use another amp where the 10 is louder, Tufnel said, “But this one goes to 11.”
Hello? These are just numbers.
Yes, Petty deserved the first opportunity to showcase his abilities, but that’s all being the number two means. Once we got to see Petty play, and play poorly (49 percent completion percentage, no touchdowns and three interceptions in the final three-plus games), it shouldn’t have generated a controversy to try the next guy. For a half. A quarter. A few series. What difference would it have made to the Jets in their stumble to a second straight 5-11 finish?
By opting to kick a short field goal while trailing 24-3 with 10:28 remaining, a recurring theme throughout December, Bowles was signaling that he was waving the white flag on the season. Due to a plethora of injuries, Bowles basically used Sunday’s game to give opportunities to a host of young players. Someone named Obum Gwacham got some reps at linebacker.
Hackenberg should have been afforded the same opportunity. It could have been helpful for him to get some live situations on film that he could take home to study. So what if it got ugly? The Jets’ offense was brutal all day anyway in the bitter cold, going 0-for-12 on third downs.
“It wasn’t (Hackenberg’s) time yet,” Bowles said. “He’ll wait his time. Bryce beat him out in the preseason. I’m not going to bench Bryce over three games when he had a chance to play.”
Since Bowles didn’t, it opened up the Jets and general manager Mike Maccagnan to further ridicule for reaching in the draft to select the former Penn State signal-caller in the first place. He must be a bust, right? After all, only three quarterbacks chosen in the first or second round since the AFL/NFL merger failed to take a single snap in their first two seasons. The first two were picked by Buffalo (the forgotten Gene Bradley in 1980 and Jim Kelly, a Hall of Famer who shouldn’t count since he initially bolted the Bills in 1983 to go play in the USFL).
Now there’s Hackenberg.
According to Bowles, Hackenberg is behind because “We had two different coordinators, so he had to learn twice in two years. And other guys have played better right now. So, when he gets a lot of reps and gets some more experience, we’ll see.”
Don’t bet the farm. The Jets will be looking at all avenues in the offseason to reconfigure their depth chart at the position. The draft is the preferable route — I am not a fan of Kirk Cousins, a prospective free agent who would cost a fortune to poach from Washington. Through some fortunate Week 17 results, Gang Green inched up to the sixth slot in the 2018 draft. All options, including making a trade to move up to select their prime quarterback choice, have to be on the table. It wouldn’t be shocking if both Petty and Hackenberg failed to survive training camp’s final cut in 2018.
There’s one little catch, however. How can we trust this general manager, who once thought Hackenberg was the answer, to pick a guy this coach knows how to develop?
For a FAN’s perspective of the Nets, Jets and the NHL, follow Steve on Twitter @SteveLichtenst1