FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — Christian Hackenberg’s NFL debut will have to wait until next season.
Coach Todd Bowles and the New York Jets are turning back to Ryan Fitzpatrick to start at quarterback against the Buffalo Bills on Sunday.
Rather than give Hackenberg a late-season look in a game that means nothing in the standings for the 4-11 Jets, Bowles is giving Fitzpatrick one final turn under center.
“He was the backup,” Bowles said of Fitzpatrick, “so now, he’s the starter.”
Fitzpatrick steps in for Bryce Petty, who was placed on injured reserve on Monday with a torn labrum in his left (non-throwing) shoulder. Petty was injured last Saturday against New England while tackling Malcolm Butler following a second-quarter turnover.
Fitzpatrick had been benched twice this season, but gets the call ahead of Hackenberg, a second-round draft pick from Penn State who has been inactive for every regular-season game this season. Hackenberg will be in uniform Sunday for the first time, but Bowles doesn’t foresee him getting into a game for anything other than an injury to Fitzpatrick.
“Not at this time, no,” Bowles said. “We’ll see how the game goes.”
When the Jets turned to Petty with four games left, it was with the idea that he would get an extended opportunity to try to prove to the franchise that he could be the quarterback of the future.
The shoulder injury ended that audition for the 2015 fourth-rounder from Baylor. So, why not use the final game to at least let Hackenberg get his feet wet?
“Bryce had four games to get ready,” Bowles said. “We’re not going to gain or lose nothing by looking at Christian, or not, in this game.”
Wide receiver Brandon Marshall agreed with Bowles’ take on starting Fitzpatrick in the season finale despite some fans and media pushing for Hackenberg.
“Why?” Marshall said. “Why does he have to play now? It’s the last game of the season. He’ll have a whole offseason to get better and work hard. Why would you want to do that to that kid … throw him out there right now?”
When a reporter pointed out that Hackenberg has been with the organization for eight months and learning the offensive system, Marshall didn’t necessarily think that means he should be forced onto the field.
“Just because we’re having a bad season doesn’t mean you throw guys out there, just because, and say, ‘OK, you’re ready to play,'” Marshall said. “Let the kid sit there and continue to learn from Fitz, sit in the room and approach the offseason with guns blazing and he’ll be fine.
“You don’t need to throw the kid out there right now. Fitz is our best option to win. We’re trying to win a ballgame.”
Hackenberg’s last game action came in the preseason finale at Philadelphia on Sept. 1. He was 11-of-31 for 54 yards with an interception.
When the Jets drafted him, many thought the second round was a bit of a reach for a quarterback who had mostly struggled during his last two college seasons. He was considered a project who would likely have to revamp his mechanics while also adjusting to an NFL offensive system in what would amount to a “redshirt” year in the pros.
“Anybody who hasn’t played won’t be ready until they play,” Bowles said. “But, you don’t leapfrog people to start playing. If Fitz gets hurt, he’ll play and you’ll see him play. It doesn’t mean anything, plus or minus, that we’re not playing him this year. We had a plan for him going in when we drafted him.”
The announcement by Bowles, as expected, was met with a mostly negative response on sports radio and social media from Jets fans who have endured a dismal season.
Fitzpatrick and Smith will be free agents after this season and are unlikely to be back. With Petty injured and expected to have surgery soon, Hackenberg could be the only healthy quarterback on the roster once the NFL’s free agency period starts in March.
“The idea was to put him on the shelf, regardless, and let him get better, going in,” Bowles said. “He wasn’t going to come in and then beat out two guys, or three guys, that were ahead of him. But, he can use some mechanical work, and he got better as the year went on. That’ll only show in the game.
“But to put him out there in the last game and say, ‘His mechanics are great,’ or, ‘His mechanics are bad,’ doesn’t make any sense, either.”
Fitzpatrick began this season as the Jets’ starting quarterback but failed to recapture the same “FitzMagic” that saw him lead the team to a 10-6 record while tossing a club-record 31 touchdowns in 2015.
After a 1-5 start this season, the Jets replaced Fitzpatrick with Geno Smith, but Smith tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee during his first start.
Fitzpatrick has been in and out of the lineup ever since, first missing a game due to a sprained knee and then later losing the starting job to Petty.
Fitzpatrick has completed 55.8 percent of his passes this season for 2,500 yards with 10 touchdowns and 17 interceptions.
NOTES: After a health scare over the weekend, Bowles said he’s “I’m OK. I’m good.” He saw his doctors Monday and said he won’t be restricted during the last week of the season. Bowles was hospitalized last Friday and didn’t join the team until Saturday morning for the game at New England. He says he’s dealing with “kidney stones, gallstones, gallbladder.” … Bowles said RB Khiry Robinson broke his right leg for the third time in just over 12 months. Bowles said the latest break is in a different spot than the previous injuries. “It’s bad luck,” Bowles said of Robinson, who ran for 22 yards on eight carries at New England in his first game back.
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