Florham Park, NJ - For the final time this regular season, Ryan Fitzpatrick will take the field with a helmet and direct the New York Jets offense at MetLife Stadium. Let's rephrase that. For the final time in his Jets career, Ryan Fitzpatrick will take the field with a helmet and direct the offense at MetLife Stadium. Better?
Let it go, Jets fans. The New Year will start the same way 2016 finished - with a bearded journeyman quarterback leading an abysmal team. There is nothing to say that will change this reality. You should probably keep an extra champagne bottle on ice from the night before; you may need it during this coveted matchup between the Rex Ryan-less Buffalo Bills and the 4-11 Jets.
Where are the storylines?
Well, backing up Fitzpatrick is the former second round pick out of Penn State - Christian Hackenberg.
Unless Sunday's tilt gets out of hand or an injury occurs, Hackenberg will stay on the sideline like he did for the first 15 games. He'll be standing on the sideline in an oversized green coat with a clipboard in hand analyzing every poor decision Fitzpatrick makes. Even if he miraculously finds himself on the field, could you really see Chan Gailey letting his back up to the back up throw a pass in the final game of the season? Let me answer that for you: No.
So, what does it mean when head coach Todd Bowles refuses to put in his back up to the back up in a meaningless game? What does that say about the organization that used their second round pick to draft someone who rarely got reps with the second team (if that) in practice? It says: "they aren't confident in him, yet," or simply "he is not ready."
"Let the kid sit there and continue to learn from Fitz," said Brandon Marshall. "Sit there 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."
Put down the pitchforks. It is a process.
Hackenberg will be back in green and white in 2017 - Fitzpatrick won't - so I understand why many outsiders believe starting Hackenberg is the right decision. I am with you. You are justified if you are sick of seeing Fitzpatrick lead an anemic offense. I think many of us are. But, that can't just be the reason to start Hackenberg and Bowles knows it.
Personally, I'd love to see Hackenberg out there in Week 17. Here's why: this game means nothing. With Fitzpatrick all but gone next season, having him start Sunday does nothing for the organization. If Bowles lets Hackenberg start on Sunday, he would be giving the rookie a chance to read live defenses, give him an in-game experience and a chance to establish connections with some receivers.
But, brace yourselves for one second when I say: trust the Jets. Wow, that was difficult to type.
The organization has a plan. They are finally grooming a quarterback - sort of.
In all honesty, the Jets are doing Hackenberg a favor for keeping the rookie away from a makeshift offensive line and a unit he has no chemistry with. Can you imagine the backlash Hackenberg would get if he throws in another direction away from Quincy Enunwa or completely ignores Marshall? How about if he throws an interception in the location he thought his receiver would be or if it was tipped into the hands of a member of the Bills' secondary? It would be unfair to evaluate Hackenberg by throwing him into this dumpster fire.
Chemistry is a huge factor. It explains why Bryce Petty was so successful with Robby Anderson. Together they teamed up for big plays in the preseason and it carried into the regular season. Hackenberg - on the other hand - did not receive the normal practice time a rookie quarterback would get in a season so he has virtually no chemistry with any one receiver or running back. He was redshirted. That was the plan all along.
The plan was to have Petty learn from Geno Smith and Fitzpatrick and have Hackenberg learn from Petty, Smith and Fitzpatrick. Are you lost yet? It seems like there is always a circus surrounding quarterbacks on 1 Jets Drive.
By having that plan in place, it would give valuable time for Petty and Hackenberg to master their techniques, footwork and decision-making - three traits effective quarterbacks must have in this league.
Although we want to see this young man start to see what he can do, Bowles is making the safe decision by labeling him as 'back up.' But, truly, there is no correct answer here. Does Fitzpatrick truly give New York the best chance to win? How can somebody say with a straight face that a 55.8 completion percentage gives a team the best chance to win?
Heck, put Hackenberg out there for the second half. Why not? What is left to lose?
In the above video, Hackenberg talks about his role as backup QB against Buffalo on Sunday.
Joe Barone is a staff writer for JetsInsider.com/NYJScout.com. He can be reached on Twitter (@28JoeBarone) or via email (firstname.lastname@example.org).