By Jason Keidel
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Had you told the world west of the Hudson River that a 5-8 football team would be one of the feel-good stories of the NFL season, they would have demanded a drug test.

But then that wouldn’t capture or convey the New York Jets, a club many pundits, including yours truly, predicted would be historically wretched. Maybe they would win a game. Maybe they would score more than the 1992 Seattle Seahawks, who averaged fewer than nine points per game. Maybe the Jets would beat the Browns and not finish with the worst record in the sport.

Yet the Jets are playing with the poise and passion we expected from the other side of MetLife Stadium, from Big Blue, not Gang Green. It’s the Jets who have three more wins than the Giants. It’s the Jets who are a picture of harmony and hardihood, the scrappy club that could. It’s the Jets who are playing past the back of their football cards, not the Giants. It’s the Jets who still have their head coach and general manager, not the Giants.

It’s the Jets who didn’t bench their quarterback. Until they had to.

Josh McCown seemed destined to become the first wire-to-wire starting Jets quarterback since Richard Todd 37 years ago. McCown had been playing out of his mind considering how far and hard he had traveled over the first 14 years of his career as an NFL vagabond. He not only played beyond his bio this season, but also led the Jets to way more victories than we expected from them over the next two seasons.

Josh McCown

Broncos linebacker Shane Ray, right, hits Jets quarterback Josh McCown during the third quarter on Dec. 10, 2017 in Denver. McCown left the game and was later diagnosed with a broken left hand. (Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)

Had someone told you the Jets’ quarterback would, on Dec. 12, have 18 touchdowns, nine interceptions, complete 67.3 percent of his passes, and have a 94.5 passer rating, you would have jumped to sign on the dotted line and then done backflips.

Those are McCown’s numbers.

His passer rating is higher than the following quarterbacks: Matt Ryan, Dak Prescott, Ben Roethlisberger, and Derek Carr.

Of course, McCown is not better than the above stalwart signal-callers. But his numbers provides some perspective on the kind of surprise season he and his Jets were having.

And now it’s over.

MOREMcCown Out Rest Of Season With Broken Hand

McCown, of course, broke his left hand on Sunday in Denver. Though it was not his throwing hand, it still needs surgery, and he’s officially finished for the 2017 season. The news doesn’t have the same heft as that of Carson Wentz and his torn ACL, but it matters. And it really, really matters to Josh McCown.

If you saw McCown’s tearful presser, how much he cared, he was a perfect emblem of the fire with which he and his Jets have played this year. Only a hater, or simple sadist, found humor in McCown’s tears, fears, and regrets that he can’t finish the season. On some level, McCown’s season, and his emotional exit, are what football is all about.

Now the Jets are relegated to Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg, who are both younger and stronger. But if they were better, they would have played by now. Will Gang Green just go through the motions the next three games? Or will they continue to be the overachieving group that has been a feisty revelation all season?

McCown is a 38-year-old football player of little note and few NFL deeds. Yet he reminded us why we love football, and why they play the games. He reminded us that while we might be able to measure height and weight and speed, gather stats and make projections based on them, there’s no metric for heart, for soul, for the fight inside the forgotten. That even in a season of eight losses, and probably counting, there have been many victories.

The dream bubble finally burst and now Jets fans must embrace the meat-hook reality that they have no quarterback to lead them for the next 10 years. But they at least had one that led them for 12-plus games. Far more than anyone considered.

Most of all, Josh McCown made you proud to be a football fan, and, yes, even a Jets fan.

For however long it lasted.

Please follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel