Do the New York Jets low key have one of the more interesting QB depth charts?
Friday night added a fascinating wrinkle to the Jets' quarterback picture, but it wasn't the starter who shined in the team's preseason debut vs. the Atlanta Falcons.
Josh McCown opened under center but was out after one pass. Then the call went to Teddy Bridgewater. Yes, Friday night's pregame hype centered around Sam Darnold's NFL debut. But can we celebrate Bridgewater in his first extensive action in more than two years?
His gruesome knee injury in 2016 feels like it was about five years ago. There was serious doubt then — and it still lingers — over whether Bridgewater might ever play at a high level again. His Friday night performance is what it is in the big picture, but in the short term it was a huge, if not more symbolic, moment for his career.
Bridgewater looked great. He completed 7-of-8 passes and found a crossing Isaiah Crowell, who might have been his third option on the play, for a short TD pass. Bridgewater finished with 85 yards in roughly one quarter of action.
But wait! The first half wasn't even over!
Yeah, the thrill-a-minute Jets broke out their third QB of the half, Darnold. That wacky Todd Bowles. And guess what? The kid looked good, too. Maybe even better than Bridgewater.
Darnold completed 9-of-11 passes for 74 yards in the first half, but more than that he displayed patience amid the rush and confidence in his receivers. On an impressive 10-play drive, Darnold — after getting hit on the left hand and attended to my the Jets' medical staff — led the Jets into the end zone despite getting a TD pass taken off the board because of penalty.
He stepped up vs. the Falcons' pressure on a nice sideline throw to Clive Walford, then hit Charles Johnson for what looked like a nice TD pass. Offensive pass interference on Johnson called that back, but Darnold was undaunted. He found Johnson — on 3rd and goal from the 14 — for a score that stood. And Darnold's second throw was even more impressive than the first one.
Darnold's big game might have meant more to the Jets' immediate plans, but Bridgewater having a fine night certainly gives them options. If the reported willingness to trade him is truly there, GM Mike Maccagnan could turn that signing into a quick-flip net gain. And Teddy, everyone's darling QB, could possibly parlay that into a starting opportunity at some point with another club, if one is willing to part with a draft pick or player in return.
Darnold's hand looked like a no-biggie; he flexed his non-throwing hand a few times but clearly had no issues playing through it. And if he keeps this level of play up, you have to seriously consider the possibility of him being the Week 1 starter over McCown at Detroit.
It's nothing against McCown, who is perfectly competent. But one of his greatest attributes, that he's the ideal backup QB, also can work against him. McCown was out there whooping it up on the sideline when Darnold led his scoring drive. Which one is the 21-year-old again? McCown is an engaged, selfless veteran who would take the eventual demotion in stride, knowing that a large chunk of his $10 million salary was earmarked for his ability to teach, motivate and, if need be, play armchair shrink.
McCown has worn a lot of hats (and jerseys, for that matter) in his career. He's going to be the perfect No. 2 to Darnold whenever that promotion comes. If it happens to be Week 1, Darnold would be the youngest opening-game rookie QB starter in the history of the NFL. That's wild, but the poise appeared to be there Friday.
Sure, Darnold opened the second half at QB and almost fumbled the ball away on his first third-quarter scramble and threw a risky rub-route pass that could have been picked a few plays later. But most of what we saw was starter-grade, even if — yeah, we know — it was fake football/non-game-planning/second-stringers/all that stuff we say about the preseason.
It's been a while, but you can say the Jets might actually have some options at quarterback. Wait, can't we now say that about the Cleveland Browns, too? What is this NFL world we're in?