New York Jets hope QB change provides spark

Jerry Beach, The Sports Xchange
Geno Smith arrives on the red carpet at the XXIII Gridiron Gala at New York Hilton Midtown on May 10, 2016 in New York City. Photo by John Angelillo/UPI
Geno Smith arrives on the red carpet at the XXIII Gridiron Gala at New York Hilton Midtown on May 10, 2016 in New York City. Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- The New York Jets waited six months for Ryan Fitzpatrick to return. They waited just six games to go back to Geno Smith.

The Jets officially pulled the plug on a disappointing season Wednesday, when head coach Todd Bowles announced Smith would start Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens (1 p.m. ET, CBS).


The decision capped a frantic-even-by-Jets-standards 48 hours that began Monday night, when Fitzpatrick was benched in the fourth quarter of a 28-3 loss to the Arizona Cardinals. Bowles said after the game that Fitzpatrick would start Sunday but began backtracking Tuesday, when he said his support of Fitzpatrick was rooted in his desire to not reveal any plans before speaking with his assistant coaches and general manager Mike Maccagnan.

Bowles said he had those discussions with his staff and superiors -- including, presumably, owner Woody Johnson -- but termed the decision Wednesday "strictly my call," one rooted in a need to shake things up in the midst of a four-game losing streak in which Fitzpatrick has thrown two touchdown passes and 10 interceptions.

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Overall this season, the 1-5 Jets have been outscored by an NFL-worst 69 points.

"It's all our fault," Bowles said. "It's still not Fitz's fault. Fitz is not falling on the sword for anything. I take full responsibility. The coaches take responsibility. The offensive line and the receivers take responsibility.

"But I felt it was time for a change. We got up there in the turnover category. We hadn't put any points up. We're trying to get a spark somewhere, so I made the change."

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Regardless of who made the call, it effectively ends Fitzpatrick's time with the Jets and hastens the process of, yet again, figuring out who is the next candidate to become the long-term solution at quarterback the franchise has lacked for the better part of five decades.

It surely won't be Smith, an impending free agent whose inconsistency (27 touchdowns and 36 interceptions in 32 career games) and immaturity have annoyed two coaching staffs. On Tuesday, Bowles rebuked Smith for comments he made in which he said he was growing "antsy" on the sideline.

Perhaps either 2015 fourth-round pick Bryce Petty or 2016 second-rounder Christian Hackenberg will be the future starter. Bowles said Tuesday it was possible the Jets could turn later this season to one or both players.

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But considering both players have yet to take a regular-season snap, it is unlikely either one opens 2017 as the starter. Petty, who just resumed practicing after sustaining a shoulder injury in August, has plenty of developing to do after playing in a gimmicky offense at Baylor.

And Hackenberg, who was sacked more than 100 times in three seasons at Penn State, looked like the worst quarterback in the NFL when he went 11 of 31 for 54 yards in the preseason finale against the Philadelphia Eagles' fourth-stringers.

So for now, the Jets will ride with Smith in yet another stark reminder of how fast things can change in the NFL. Entering Week 17 last season, the Jets were in the midst of a five-game winning streak -- only the Kansas City Chiefs and Arizona Cardinals had longer winning runs at the time -- and looked to be a legitimate Super Bowl contender with a dominant defense and Fitzpatrick enjoying a career season (he threw a franchise-record 31 touchdowns) at the helm of a high-flying offense.

But the Jets, of course, were upset by Rex Ryan and the Buffalo Bills on Jan. 2 to knock New York out of playoff contention. That began a weird offseason in which Smith took first-team reps while the free agent Fitzpatrick held out until the eve of training camp in search of a better contract.


Fitzpatrick was immediately re-installed as the No. 1 quarterback upon his return, but Bowles said he had no regrets over keeping the seat warm for Fitzpatrick instead of going with Smith.

"I don't think it was a mistake based off what he did last year," Bowles said. "He had the statistics and everything else. I mean, he set records and everything else. You want that same kind of karma and chemistry back. It just hasn't happened this year."

--Smith will have to pull a Ray Lucas if the Jets are going to turn their season around.

The Jets are 1-5 or worse through six games for the ninth time since the NFL went to a 16-game schedule in 1978. Only one of those teams finished with more than four wins -- the 1999 edition, which, like the 2016 club, opened with Super Bowl aspirations but fell apart thanks to quarterbacking issues.

In that case, it was Vinny Testaverde sustaining a torn Achilles as he dived for a loose ball in the season opener. The Jets opened 1-5 with Rick Mirer at the helm and reached the midway point of the season at 2-6 before head coach Bill Parcells turned to Lucas, a converted special-teamer who directed the Jets to a surprising 6-2 finish and an 8-8 overall record.


The other Jets teams to open 1-5 finished 4-12 five times (1980, 1989, 1992, 2007 and 2014), 3-13 once (1995) and 1-15 once (in Rich Kotite's final season in 1996, when the Jets were 0-8 before beating the Cardinals).

--The Jets will have a new starter at the most scrutinized position on the field Sunday. But swapping Fitzpatrick for Smith won't be the only lineup change made by Bowles.

Asked about changes on the defensive side of the ball, Bowles said Wednesday, "I've made some changes, yes," though he didn't go into any further detail.

"(None) that I feel like revealing," Bowles said to a follow-up question. "But I've made some changes."

One obvious candidate for a benching is cornerback Buster Skrine, who was flagged for four penalties Monday night in New York's 28-3 loss to the Arizona Cardinals. He likely would be replaced by Marcus Williams, who has struggled with increased exposure but has nine interceptions in just 27 career games.

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