DENVER – Maybe this will be nothing more than a footnote in the pain-staking history of a wayward franchise, something we’ll all forget in time. Maybe it won’t matter since the man fighting back tears wasn’t even supposed to be here.
Football is the ultimate cut-throat, next-man-up business as unforgiving as a Northeast winter. It’s natural selection designed to push the weak and meek to the margins. Eat or be eaten. Produce or take a seat. Loyalty extends as far as the next touchdown or interception.
So, maybe you weren’t moved by Josh McCown reminding all of us that this is still a kid’s game played by wealthy adults. If that’s the case, I feel sorry for you.
I feel sorry for you if you didn’t understand why this 38-year-old husband and father of four fought back tears after breaking his left hand during the Jets’ 23-0 loss to the Broncos on Sunday. I feel sorry for you if you didn’t understand why his voice cracked and eyes welled up re-living the moment that likely ended the most wonderful season of his 15-year football life.
“It’s been the best because of the guys,” McCown said, overcome with emotion. “Not numbers… No. It’s been the best because of the group of men in the locker room.”
“I’m just proud to be part of it,” he continued. “Thankfully they let me be part of this team. And we’ll see what happens. But if I can finish, I’d love to finish. But we’ll see what the tests say.”
The tests won’t provide good news. His left arm was broken after Broncos’ pass-rusher Shane Ray rolled over it after a 12-yard completion to Matt Forte with about three minutes left in the third quarter. The Jets doctors and trainers might be the best of the best, but they aren’t miracle workers. And McCown knows that.
Maybe that’s why he could barely compose himself in the minutes after what might have been his last game with a team that gave him new life.
McCown’s decade-and-a-half journey sprinkled with injuries and clipboards led him to the Jets. They were looking for a mentor, a bridge-quarterback, a stop-gap so that the brain trust could figure out what they had with the two younger guys playing his position.
The smart money had McCown exiting stage left by the end of September. He’d surely give way to Bryce Petty or Christian Hackenberg by Halloween. No chance that the old man would make it Thanksgiving, right?
He did. And he did it with a passion reserved for younger players. He found a home with his eighth team, jumping around like a giddy school boy at practices, infusing the whole damn place with energy and fire and a love for the game that his head coach wished everyone shared.
Maybe 38 was the new 28 or maybe McCown exhibited the dedication of a man, who wanted so badly to play all 16 games for the first time in his career. He took every single snap this season before suffering a hip pointer after getting crunched by two Broncos defenders on a second-quarter scramble.
“That hurt pretty bad,” McCown said. “I was able to get it back loose, where I felt like I could throw it. I wanted to go back in there.”
He missed two plays (one erased by penalty) before coming back into the game. He threw his ninth interception of the season on his first play back, but refused to use the injury as an excuse.
“He played his butt off,” said Petty, who went 2 for 9 for 14 yards in relief of McCown. “He fought and fought and fought. That’s what you want in a leader. It’s what we see day in and day out: His grit and passion.”
McCown, who tied his career high for starts in a season (13), finished 6 for 12 for 46 yards, two turnovers and a 25.0 passer rating. If it’s truly over, he’ll finish with career highs in passing yards (2,2926), completion percentage (67.3) and touchdown passes (18). He also absorbed a career-high 39 sacks. The numbers don’t begin to tell his story though.
“My heart is with these guys,” McCown said. “I want to finish with these guys.”
He shouldn’t be a footnote.