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Bryce Petty may have forced his way back into competition

Just when the starting quarterback derby seemed like a two-man race, along comes Bryce Petty to throw a wrench in head coach Todd Bowles’s plans.

Despite a defense that has the looks of a top-tier outfit, the New York Jets’ offense doesn’t seem to have the requisite firepower to keep up on a weekly basis. The main sticking point on the offensive side is the lack of perimeter weapons and suspect quarterback play, that includes veteran journeyman Josh McCown and way-over-his-head second-year player Christian Hackenberg. But with the sudden emergence of third-year vet Petty, the Jets may have stumbled upon something.

Almost the forgotten man in the quarterback battle, and rarely getting first-team snaps in training camp, Petty was thought to be the odd-man out – and maybe even cut material if Bowles decided to go with just two signal callers for his opening day roster. Petty’s name was rarely mentioned in the quarterback debate, as most outsiders would pepper Bowles on the progress of the aforementioned duo ahead of the former Baylor University star.

But after Petty’s solid performance (15-of-24, 160 yards, and an interception) against the Detroit Lions, last night, he may have forced Bowles into turning this into a three-man race. And despite the turnover, he did account for the only points of the night for New York in a 16-6 loss in Detroit.

Petty looked more comfortable in leading the offense in the third and fourth quarters than Hackenberg, who was making his first career National Football League start, did in the first two quarters. McCown, who was told all week that he’d get some snaps, never saw the field.

Of course, Jets’ fans should keep in mind that Petty was playing almost exclusively against the Lions’ backups, as both teams pulled most of their starters after the first half. But it was the poise, timing, and athleticism that Petty displayed which stood out the most. He at least pulled even with Hackenberg on the depth chart, if not already passed him after last night.

Nothing is expected of the Jets this season, regardless if the defense can churn out a top-10 ranking. So, it might do Gang Green justice to roll out the once forgotten Petty and let him grow – and take the necessary learning lumps – while he develops simultaneously with the inexperienced wideouts.

McCown has reportedly been nothing but helpful to his younger understudies and he’s been in this rodeo before in helping a team groom an inexperienced successor, so allowing someone like Petty leap frog him on the depth chart wouldn’t cause any waves in the quarterbacks room.

The grizzled vet has played just one series in the preseason, so he figures to see a lot of action next week against the New York Giants – which may eventually solidify his position as the No. 1 guy. But when asked last night if it’s safe to assume that McCown will be the opening day starter and that’s why Bowles didn’t need to play him against the Lions, the coach noted, “Not at this point.”

Time will tell if Bowles is just playing coy, but at the very least, this week’s practices will be interesting to see if Petty at least closed the gap on Hackenberg in garnering more reps.

The second-year quarterback got his first NFL start, but it was a mitigating disaster almost from the first snap. Hackenberg went 2-of-6 for 14 yards and was sacked twice. Including the preseason opener against the Tennessee Titans, Hackenberg has played in 13 series and has not led the Jets to a single point. And while Bowles reasoned that Hackenberg didn’t get a “a fair evaluation” since the entire first-team offense stunk, it was evident from the start that the former Penn State University star may need even more seasoning than last year’s “redshirt” campaign.

Bowles has treated Petty as the forgotten man in this race, and was even stingy with the praise in his performance (“He made some good throws, some good decisions, but we have to put the ball in the end zone”). But after his showing against the Lions and having more starting experience in actual games than Hackenberg and more athleticism than McCown to escape the pressure that will be allowed by a leaky Jets’ offensive line, maybe it’s time for Bowles to start remembering he actually has three quarterbacks on his roster.

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