FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — Bryce Petty is getting another chance to prove to the New York Jets that he can be their quarterback of the future.
He’s their man under center right now, at the very least, and will make his fifth NFL start Sunday against the Saints in New Orleans.
With Josh McCown out for the final three games with a broken left hand, it’s an opportunity that Petty has been waiting patiently for in his third season.
But he insists he’s not focused on what it could mean for him beyond this week.
“Not at all,” Petty said Wednesday after his first practice this season as the Jets’ starter.
“This right here is for these guys in this locker room. I have nothing as far as looking toward the future. This right here is for these guys in the locker room, it’s for Josh. He set a standard as to how to be a professional, how to be a quarterback.”
McCown was injured last Sunday in the Jets’ 23-0 loss at Denver and had season-ending surgery Tuesday. The 38-year-old veteran was having the best season of his 15-year NFL career with a career-high 18 touchdown passes and 2,926 yards.
Despite the Jets’ playoff hopes dwindling at 5-8, coach Todd Bowles had no plans to sit McCown in favor of Petty or second-year quarterback Christian Hackenberg. Until McCown took that blow to his hand.
McCown, who quickly established himself as a team leader, spoke with Petty over the past few days and shared some advice with the young quarterback.
“Just to be me,” Petty said. “It’s not about trying to replace Josh and trying to be Josh. It’s to be Bryce and find little successes.
“Whether that’s how I approach the game, in the game, just smiling is important — understanding that it is a blessing to be here and I think that is something I was upset with myself about last game — I don’t know if I smiled too much. I wanted to bring us back.
“Just to smile and have fun and enjoy what I’m doing.”
It’s been tough at times to do that for Petty, who has had an up-and-down ride so far in the NFL since being drafted in the fourth round out of Baylor in 2015.
Petty sat as a rookie, but made it onto the field last year when Ryan Fitzpatrick was hurt. He took over as the starter late in the season when Fitzpatrick was benched and Geno Smith got injured, but Petty suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in Week 16.
Neither Petty nor Hackenberg gave McCown much competition during training camp, and Petty sprained a knee ligament late in the preseason.
Nearly four months later, Petty will take center stage against the Saints — with at least 15 family members, many of them from Louisiana, in attendance.
“I know he was a baller at Baylor,” said Saints safety Kenny Vaccaro, a former Texas player who never played against Petty but follows Big 12 football.
“He hasn’t played that many snaps in this league yet for me to put my opinion out on him. I know he’s a better athlete than people give him credit for. He has a strong arm.”
Petty’s biggest issues have been reading defenses and a lack of consistent accuracy, both areas on which he has been working from the day he walked through the doors of the Jets’ facility.
“Obviously, any time you’re in a system longer and you get to watch for a while during the season, you get to learn a little more,” Bowles said.
“But you still have to go out and prove it on Sunday. Mentally, he’s a lot different, but you still have to go out and play on Sunday.”
First off, however, Petty had to take snaps with the first-team offense — something he hadn’t done this season at practice.
“It’s kind of like riding a bike,” Petty said, “and then kind of getting in there to dust the bike off, but it still rolls.”
Petty received a text from Fitzpatrick, now with Tampa Bay, to wish him luck after Bowles announced earlier in the week that he would be the starter.
Both Fitzpatrick and McCown know the path Petty has been on, having had long NFL careers as both starters and backups — with lots of patience in between.
“I’ve been blessed, between (McCown) and Fitz, to see those guys in and out on a day-to-day basis, who they are in the locker room, outside the locker room, on the practice field,” Petty said.
“So I just want to continue that standard that Josh has set and it’s all about these guys in the locker room.”
NOTES: Bowles doesn’t anticipate Hackenberg playing this season. “Bryce is the next man up,” he said. “We have people at every position that want to play. We’re not jumping people over people just to play considering anything. Bryce is our starter.” … WR Jeremy Kerley, who has returned from a four-game suspension, said he still doesn’t know why he tested positive for a performance enhancer and doesn’t know how one got into his system. “A lot of ghosts around here,” Kerley said jokingly. “A ghost put it in. You know, the ghost of Christmas past.”
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