Ryan Fitzpatrick to start at QB in Jets' season finale vs. Bills

ByRich Cimini ESPN logo
Tuesday, December 27, 2016

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- New York Jets coach Todd Bowles will start Ryan Fitzpatrick at quarterback for the final game of the season instead of rookie Christian Hackenberg -- a decision that is unlikely to help the coach's sinking popularity.

Bowles made the announcement Tuesday, ignoring public sentiment for Hackenberg, who has yet to play a regular-season snap. Hackenberg will be the No. 2 quarterback, but he won't play against the Bills unless Fitzpatrick is injured, according to Bowles. Later, the coach left open the possibility that Hackenberg could see mop-up duty in the fourth quarter.

Bowles was pressed into a decision because Bryce Petty tore the labrum in his left (non-throwing) shoulder on Saturday against the Patriots. Petty, named to replace Fitzpatrick on Dec. 5, was supposed to start the final four games.

"If Fitz gets hurt, he'll go in and play," Bowles said of Hackenberg. "If Fitz doesn't, he won't play. But he's ready to play. He'll be ready to play.

"We're not going to gain or lose nothing by playing him or not."

Hackenberg was selected in the second round of the 2016 NFL draft. If he doesn't play Sunday, he will become the first quarterback since 2008 to be drafted in the first or second round and not play a single snap as a rookie. It also happened to Brian Brohm, a second-round pick of the Packers in 2008.

The Jets said this would be a "redshirt year" for Hackenberg, and Bowles said they don't want to deviate from their original plan.

Neither Fitzpatrick nor Hackenberg was available to the media on Tuesday.

"Why does he have to play now? It's the last game of the season," wide receiverBrandon Marshallsaid of Hackenberg. "He'll have a whole offseason to get better and work hard. Why would you want to do that to that kid?

"Just because we're having a bad season doesn't mean you throw guys out there just because and say, 'OK, you're ready to play.' Let the kid sit there and continue to learn from Fitz, sit in a 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. Fitz is our best option to win. We're trying to win a ballgame."

The playoffs are out of the question for the Jets (4-11), leaving many to wonder why they aren't starting Hackenberg. This has been a tumultuous season for Fitzpatrick, who signed a $12 million contract in July and has been benched twice. He's 2-8 as the starter this season and has thrown 17 interceptions, tied for the second most in the league.

ESPN contributor Colin Stephenson added to this report.