In a truly unfathomable turn of events, these Jets might actually be worse than anyone imagined.
The ineptitude was widespread. The calamity was complete. The embarrassment was embarrassing.
For all the forgettable moments in the Jets’ 32-31 preseason loss to the Giants Saturday night, one thing is abundantly clear: Christian Hackenberg is nowhere near ready to be an NFL starting quarterback.
Todd Bowles played it coy in the run-up to this unmitigated disaster by his first-team offense, but the quarterback competition silliness is over once and for all: Hackenberg is miles away from being the player that general manager Mike Maccagnan believed he could be when drafting him two or three rounds too early two years ago.
Hackenberg was lost in his second start in consecutive weeks, a wayward soul with a tight deadline to deliver. He went 8 for 15 for 60 yards, two pick-sixes, 4.0 yards per attempt and a 23.6 passer rating against the Giants starters. He threw his first career touchdown pass in relief of an injured Bryce Petty late in the game against a bunch of scrubs, but don’t be fooled.
This was awful.
The brain trust privately praised Hackenberg’s off-season progress, but it was obvious to them that sooner or later his baby steps would have to morph into giant leaps if he had any realistic shot to be under center when the games actually counted.
They gave up that pipe dream weeks ago even as the head coach put on a brave public face that the starting gig was still up for grabs. It wasn’t. Everyone in the know already knew.
“Everyone has their own opinions as to how growth is supposed to happen at this position in the league,” said Hackenberg, who went 4 for 6 for 66 yards and a touchdown on a late drive against a bunch of second- and third-string defenders. “The best way I’ve heard it described is: It’s a marathon, not a (sprint). You need to be able to take the good, take the bad, learn from the bad and build on the good.”
Bowles said that he wouldn’t reveal his Week 1 starter until he reviews the film and discusses the matter with his coaches, but the truth is plain to see: Veteran Josh McCown, who spent more time doing wind sprints in practice last week than, you know, actually practicing before sitting out his second consecutive game, will be the lead man in Buffalo on Sept. 10.
The official announcement will come at some point in the future, but the suspense (if there was any) is over.
One week after Hackenberg underwhelmed in his first career start, he was overmatched by a formidable defense that toyed with the Jets. Hackenberg’s shaky play coupled with a suspect offensive line made for a nightmarish night.
“It wasn’t (just) Hackenberg,” Bowles said. “It was the entire offense. When you get hit like that as a quarterback and throw pick sixes, it’s all hand in hand. It wasn’t just him.
It got ugly fast for Hackenberg, who was leveled by a free runner on a blindside sack on the second play of the game. (Remember, he was crushed on a sack by a free runner in Detroit on the third play last week after not properly adjusting the protection).
The Jets first three drives were comically bad (six plays, minus-5 yards, nine points gifted to the opponent).
The first drive: 3 plays and out. The second play of the second drive resulted in a safety (Jason Pierre-Paul tackled Matt Forte in the end zone). The first play of the third drive resulted in an easy walk-in pick six by Landon Collins.
The Hackenberg-led offense gave up 9 points on those first three drives. His pick-six on a pass intended for tight end Eric Tomlinson exemplified how much more he still has to learn. Collins casually stepped in front of Hackenberg’s telegraphed underthrown pass before practically jogging in for a 23-yard touchdown.
Hackenberg had a good ol’ fashioned Blutarsky in the first quarter: A 0.0 passer rating and pick six. He completed one pass for a grand total of minus-1 yard to help the Jets fall behind 19-0 after the opening quarter.
After Hackenberg & Co. went three-and-out on the fourth drive, the young quarterback showed some signs of life. Hackenberg finally led the Jets to points on his 18th drive of the preseason when Chandler Catanzaro capped a 10-play drive with a 27-yard field early in the second quarter.
That drive turned out to be an aberration. Hackenberg pulled off a rare multiple pick-six performance after Robby Anderson couldn’t hold on to the ball after getting drilled by Janoris Jenkins late in the first half. Donte Deayon grabbed the loose ball in the air and rolled in for a 36-yard interception for a score.
Hackenberg probably didn’t take any solace knowing that it wasn’t his fault this time given that he’s led the Jets to only 10 points in 22 drives this preseason.
“You just got to keep your head up and push through things, because it’s not always going to be peaches and cream,” Hackenberg said. “You got to be able to bounce back from mistakes and things that didn’t go your way. That’s really what defines you as a player and as a person. How you react to adversity.”
Hackenberg will get his opportunity to play in the regular season, because the brain trust must get an evaluation when the real bullets are flying.
But the truth can no longer be hidden.
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