NEW YORK — The New York Jets aren’t ready to sacrifice wins now for a glimpse at an uncertain future.
A day after coach Todd Bowles insisted that Josh McCown will remain the starter under center, quarterbacks coach Jeremy Bates reiterated that point — regardless of the growing sentiment outside the facility that it might be time for Christian Hackenberg or Bryce Petty to get an opportunity.
“We’re focused more on the Carolina Panthers than getting into that debate,” Bates said Tuesday during a conference call. “Of course, we’ll have that conversation at the end of the season.
“As an organization, this is professional football. This isn’t Triple-A.”
In other words, now is not the time to send a player onto the field simply to assess his progress and development.
At 4-6, the Jets are still in the playoff hunt as they head into their bye week, despite having dropped four of their past five.
When they return to the practice field next week, McCown will again be leading the first-team offense as they prepare for Cam Newton and the Panthers.
“We’re going to play the best players that give us the opportunity to win at all positions,” Bates said. “That’s our philosophy. Josh is our starter. He gives us the opportunity to win on Sunday and that’s what we’re focused on.”
But there’s no guarantee, of course, that Bates, Bowles, offensive coordinator John Morton or anyone else will be back to talk about the franchise’s future when this season is over. Bowles is still coaching for his job, and likely needs the Jets to continue being competitive if he has a shot at returning for the final year on his current contract.
While Bates said McCown is “playing at a high level,” the veteran QB is 38 and signed for just this season, so he clearly isn’t the future. Both Hackenberg, a second-rounder out of Penn State last year, and Petty, a fourth-rounder out of Baylor in 2015, were given a shot to overtake McCown for the job in training camp. But neither proved he was up for the challenge.
When asked a few weeks ago whether it was time to put one of the youngsters in, Bowles replied flatly: “I looked at all of my young quarterbacks in the summer. Josh is my quarterback.”
That might have been the clearest of all indicators as to where the organization stands on their evaluations of Hackenberg and Petty.
Petty started four games last season for Ryan Fitzpatrick, but had just three touchdown passes and seven interceptions.
Meanwhile, Hackenberg remains an even bigger question mark. A talented thrower who was rated highly by general manager Mike Maccagnan, Hackenberg has been unable to move up on the depth chart. The Jets could still potentially land a top quarterback in the draft in April, but that would also spell the end of Hackenberg’s chances of being the guy to lead the huddle in the future.
“He continues to develop as a pro quarterback, learning the system, playing fast, and being more accurate,” Bates said. “So all those things, he’s working on.”
While the two youngsters continue to watch from the sideline during games and serve as backups during practice, Bates believes they are still learning from a “true pro” in McCown. The 15-year veteran has a single-season personal best of 14 touchdown throws and his 69.0 percent completion rate ranks third in the NFL.
“When you watch Josh practice, he goes out there and he’s on it — on the protections, 100 percent on the run game, 100 percent,” Bates said. “As a young quarterback, I think that’s huge to witness that, because you can’t have an off day. You can’t have a bad Wednesday or have the philosophy of, ‘Man, I’m going to really turn it loose on game day.'”
Bates said both Hackenberg and Petty, who take turns running the scout team, have a system during practice that puts an emphasis on making the right decisions with each snap.
“If you throw a completion, you stay on, and if you throw an incompletion, you rotate,” Bates said. “They know the importance of the game. They know the importance of their position. And I think they’re both working their tail off to put themselves in the position.
“So when their number is called, they’ll be ready.”