Todd Bowles will start Ryan Fitzpatrick instead of Christian Hackenberg to punctuate this forgettable season, a not-so-subtle admission that the rookie simply isn’t ready yet.
Bryce Petty’s torn labrum suffered early in the Christmas Eve Massacre in Foxborough prompted the masses to wonder whether Hackenberg, who has been inactive all season, would get his first start in a meaningless game against the Bills.
It seemingly made perfect sense, but Bowles’ decision to turn back to the twice-benched Fitzpatrick reveals exactly how far Hackenberg is from being ready.
“We’re not going to gain or lose nothing by looking at Christian, or not, in this game,” Bowles said Tuesday.
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Hackenberg, the 51st overall pick, was considered a second-round reach by some personnel people across the league. Although the Jet brain trust was wowed by his football acumen in the run-up to the draft, it’s become obvious he’s a project. Some on One Jets Drive believe he’ll never be the answer to the team’s quarterback quandary. Others believe it could take a very long time, if it ever happens.
“We had a plan for him going in when we drafted him,” Bowles said. “He’s taken a lot of reps in practice. If Fitz gets hurt, he’ll go in there and play. If Fitz doesn’t, he won’t play, but he’s ready to play. He’ll be ready to play. Obviously with experience comes better play and you’ll see a bunch of things, but putting him in right now isn’t going to hurt or help him.”
Bowles later conceded that Hackenberg could get mop-up duty on Sunday.
“If the game gets out of hand, one way or the other (and) we want to put him in the fourth (quarter),” Bowles said, “then we’ll put him in. If not, he won’t play.”
The team’s decision to keep Hackenberg on ice isn’t surprising. But it’s troubling.
“Why does he have to play now?” Brandon Marshall said. “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?"
“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 added. “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.”
There’s no denying that Fitzpatrick, who will be a free agent after this season, gives Marshall & Co. the best opportunity to win their largely useless fifth game. For all of Fitzpatrick’s troubles this season (2-8 record and 17 INTs), he is leaps and bounds better than Hackenberg, but that ignores the larger picture.
Offensive coordinator Chan Gailey said it takes “thousands” of practice reps to fix a quarterback’s mechanical glitches. Bowles didn’t concede that Hackenberg had more mechanical flaws than anticipated, but it’s apparent the QB needs to overcome many obstacles.
Bowles also didn’t subscribe to the notion that the rookie could use this final game as valuable experience to build off entering the offseason.
So, does Bowles believe Hackenberg still needs a lot of work?
“Until somebody plays, you never know,” Bowles said. “A young player coming into the league needs a lot of work. Some play right away, some don’t.”
The Jets quarterback situation is a mess. They started the season with four quarterbacks on the roster. They'll end the season no closer to finding a franchise guy.
Bowles didn’t even commit to Petty, who went 1-3 as a starter, beyond this season.
“It’s something we’ll talk about in the offseason,” Bowles said.
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