By Ernie Palladino
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The Jets’ future hangs by a thumb — Ryan Fitzpatrick’s to be specific.

Their punting needs fixing.

Their kicker is gone, and one of their two top receivers is hurting.

As if dealing with the grim prospect of Geno Smith returning at quarterback for even a short period, possibly losing Brandon Marshall to ankle and toe injuries, lighting a fire under Ryan Quigley’s erratic punting foot, and the loss of Nick Folk to IR with a quad strain wasn’t enough of a bellyful for Jets fans, the old coach added his own slice of bologna to this week’s smorgasbord of chaos.

MORE: Bart Scott: ‘Rex Ryan Always Wants To Beat Someone He Knows Personally’

Rex being Rex this week did nothing to ease Todd Bowles’ headache as his struggling team heads into Thursday’s MetLife Stadium matchup against Ryan’s Bills. But, hey, what else would Bowles, or any of the older Jets for that matter, have expected?

It was so like Ryan to anoint IK Enemkpali as one of the weekly team captains. Textbook, actually. The only question is what will distract the Jets more — his in-your-face insult of signing the linebacker whose belt out of Smith put the young bungler on the bench with a busted jaw, or the delirious gratitude that could overcome the Jets captains at midfield when they greet the man who essentially delivered them Fitzpatrick?

All joking aside, Ryan’s antics caused only minor aggravation in this super-short week — brought to you, incidentally, by a league that cares so much about its employees’ welfare that it makes them play two games in four days. The Jets have plenty of their own issues to keep them up at night.

Just a few days ago, they barely got past a young, mistake-prone Jaguars team 28-23. Had it not been for Marshall’s diving fourth-quarter catch in the end zone, the Jags would have come all the way back on them.

Marshall’s availability was up in the air that whole practice week, and it remained so Wednesday. If he’s at reduced efficiency, the Jets will probably have trouble outscoring a team that just put up 33 points in beating Miami.

The other half of that equation is Fitzpatrick, who represents the biggest factor. He expects to have the torn ligaments in his left (non-throwing) thumb repaired in the 10 days that separate the Bills and Texans games. Though Fitzpatrick operated well enough with it braced last Sunday, even Bowles thinks it’s better to have it taken care of sooner than later.

The question there is whether it will cost Fitzpatrick any time. The quarterback said he’ll do everything possible not to miss a game, but there are no guarantees.

If surgeons find the matter more complicated that first thought, it means Smith will return. Considering his lack of game awareness in his last extended appearance against the Raiders — failing to avoid a couple of sacks as the fourth quarter ran down — that’s not a happy prospect.

But it’s the only choice Bowles has right now.

So, too, with the new placekicker. The Jets will now rest their kicking future on the fragile shoulders of former Texan Randy Bullock. Where Folk ranked as one of the NFL’s most consistent kickers, having hit 13 of 16 field goals and all 19 of his extra points, Bullock is not. The Texans cut him after three games when he missed two of five PATs. His only field goal miss in six attempts came from outside 40 yards.

The Quigley situation remains ongoing. His 34.8 net ranks last among the 20 kickers who have 35 punts or more.

Given all that, Ryan’s symbolic needling amounts to little more than a minor irritant. But given the circumstances of this 5-3 team, the Jets need more than a few things to go their way to avoid falling to 1-2 in the division. The last thing they want to do is allow the 4-4 (2-1 in AFC East) Bills to jump into second place with a two-game division tiebreaker advantage.

At this point, Bowles should only wish Ryan’s shenanigans were his most pressing issues.

Follow Ernie on Twitter at @ErniePalladino

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