FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — Josh McCown was signed by Cleveland two years ago to be a mentor to the Browns’ young quarterbacks and provide a calming, veteran presence for a franchise in the midst of massive changes.
The 38-year-old quarterback was signed by the Jets during the offseason to serve in the same type of role. And so far, McCown has delivered. He’s even gotten a couple of wins — something that wasn’t a common occurrence during his time in Cleveland.
“Any time you go through those types of environments where you’re rebuilding and you’re not getting the wins that you’d like, those things are tough,” McCown said after practice Wednesday. “But I will say the people that we were around — the teammates, the guys that we were in the locker room with — we made the most of it, and so I enjoyed building those relationships.”
With the Browns, McCown went 1-10 over two seasons as a starter. The only victory came on Oct. 11, 2015, when he set the Browns’ regular-season single-game record with 457 yards passing yards while leading Cleveland to a 33-30 overtime win at Baltimore.
During McCown’s tenure, Johnny Manziel, Austin Davis, Robert Griffin III and Cody Kessler all took turns under center. They combined, along with McCown, to go 4-28.
“Obviously, I wish we would have won more games and gone better, but I think we learned from it,” McCown said. “They’re obviously in the process of trying to build their own thing there, and I wish them the best, but I look back on those years as things that made me stronger, for sure.”
The Browns are still scuffling at 0-4 and are starting rookie DeShone Kizer, the latest candidate in Cleveland’s endless search for a franchise quarterback.
Meanwhile, McCown has the Jets feeling pretty good so far during a season in which he was considered a mere stopgap at quarterback as New York’s revamped roster had many fans and media wondering if the team would be able to win a single game.
McCown’s 70.1 completion percentage ranks second in the NFL, behind only Kansas City’s Alex Smith (76.0). His 80 percent completion rate in the first half of games is first in the league. McCown’s overall numbers aren’t gaudy — 82 of 117 for 826 yards with three touchdowns and three interceptions — but his ability to stay cool under pressure and to get his teammates to follow suit has been clear early this season.
And Browns coach Hue Jackson isn’t surprised in the least.
“He’s an ultimate player,” Jackson said during a conference call with Jets reporters. “He works extremely hard – very bright, understands football, studies the game, unbelievable teammate. He was outstanding here with me and I really appreciated my time with him. I really kind of grew close to him because of being with the quarterbacks, but he’s a good player.”
Despite that, Cleveland released McCown in February with a year left on his contract. The move surprised the quarterback, but he insists he harbors no ill will toward his former team.
“My plan was to be there, and obviously they made a decision to go a different direction,” he said. “So I was looking forward to the possibility of that happening, but when that changed it opened the door to be able to come here, and I’m glad it worked out the way it did.”
McCown’s professional approach mixed with a competitive edge and team-first mentality has made him a favorite of coaches and teammates at all 10 of his NFL stops over 15 seasons. He has never been a star, not even close; McCown is the epitome of the team “journeyman backup.”
But in coming to New York, he was the favorite to win the starting job the day he signed a one-year, $6 million contract in March. Some fans grumbled at the signing because they wanted Christian Hackenberg or Bryce Petty to seize the opportunity to prove they could be the face of the franchise. Neither could come close to beating out McCown.
The veteran has won two straight games as the starter for the first time since 2004, when he was with Arizona. This week, he could win three straight starts for the first time in his career.
“Hopefully, we can really hit our stride soon, but we are doing some good things,” McCown said during a conference call with Browns reporters. “My comfort level is growing within the offense every time I go out there. I’m just trying to be smart with the football and protect it as best I can.
“The coaches are putting us in an opportunity to play efficient football and that’s all you can ask for.”
(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)