Believe it or not: One positive takeaway from Jets' mess in Detroit

It appears the quarterback question was answered in the Jets' loss to the Lions, as Christian Hackenberg (right) was in over his head and Josh McCown (left) cemented his role as starter. Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

Go ahead, dump on the offense. It was bad, there's no way to sugar-coat what happened Saturday night in NoTown -- as in, no touchdowns for the New York Jets. But if you're looking for a positive takeaway, consider this:

Todd Bowles wasn't giving lip service when he promised competition. For weeks -- no, months -- he had been trumpeting the "open" positional battles on offense. Coaches say stuff like that all the time, and they never actually follow through.

Bowles did. The personnel shuffling probably contributed to some of the sloppiness in the 16-6 loss to the Detroit Lions, but it sent a message to the team: He's not married to the status quo. For a team like the Jets, starting over with so many young players, it's the right approach.

Essentially, there were five new starters on offense -- quarterback Christian Hackenberg, left tackle Ben Ijalana, center Jonotthan Harrison, right tackle Brandon Shell and wide receiver Chris Harper.

For Bowles, this was a significant departure from a year ago. In the second preseason game, Ryan Fitzpatrick and the regular cast on offense played into the second quarter.

This time, the Jets took an experimental approach to the game, with Hackenberg's presence in the lineup serving as the beacon. There are two ways to look at that:

Bowles is open minded, giving everyone a fair shot -- a true meritocracy. On the downside, the season opener is only three weeks away and they have so many question marks, reflecting a roster in transition.

At least one question, if you could call it that, was answered: Josh McCown is the starting quarterback. For obvious reasons, this won't electrify the fan base, but he's the best they've got.

Hackenberg cemented his role as a backup by posting a 42.4 passer rating. No matter how much Bowles tries to deflect the blame by saying the pass protection was lousy -- "It's not a fair evaluation of the kid" -- it's clear Hackenberg isn't ready for the No. 1 gig. His inability to recognize a blitz on the first series resulted in a vicious hit that conjured up memories of Bryce Petty, Cameron Wake and Ndamukong Suh.

The new-look offensive line had its share of hiccups, as Bowles acknowledged there were communication issues. That's what happens with uncertainty at center. Nick Mangold is long gone, and they're trying to replace him with backup-type players.

"I'm not worried about it, but we need to fix it," Bowles said of the line problems.

He can try to fix it by settling on a starting five. I'd expect Kelvin Beachum and Wesley Johnson to be back in the lineup this week at left tackle and center, respectively, with Shell and Brent Qvale still battling at right tackle.

The bigger concern is wide receiver because the options are so limited. Right now, their opening-day starters look like Robby Anderson and ... and ...

Who? Jalin Marshall is facing a four-game suspension. Charone Peake appeared to be rising, but he was invisible in Detroit. He played only two snaps, including a drop that nearly resulted in an interception. The rookies, ArDarius Stewart and Chad Hansen, still haven't had any time with the starters. With no playmakers on the outside, the Jets will face a steady diet of eight-man fronts, which will choke their rushing attack.

Now the mixing-and-matching portion of the preseason is over, and it's time to pick the best players to begin the regular-season prep -- even if their best aren't good enough.