Jets' long-term quarterback situation is for the Birds

Josh McCown is the latest in a line of placeholder quarterbacks on the Jets' roster. Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- On Oct. 7, 2013, the New York Jets took the Monday night stage with a rookie quarterback and stunned the heavily-favored Atlanta Falcons on the road. Geno Smith was terrific, capping the night with a flawless two-minute drive for the game-winning field goal. For a change, the Jets had hope at quarterback -- or so it seemed.

"He wanted to show people, 'You know what? I can do this,'" former coach Rex Ryan said Tuesday by phone. "It was real simple what they were doing defensively, and the kid just ate 'em up."

Smith completed 16 of 20 passes for 199 yards and three touchdowns in the 30-28 win, one of the highlights of his 30-start tenure. But it turned out to be false hope, as he never was able to sustain the flickers of promise he displayed as a rookie.

It's worth mentioning now because the two teams meet Sunday for the first time since the upset in Atlanta. The Falcons still have Matt Ryan, the reigning NFL MVP. The Jets? They're still in quarterback purgatory, looking for the player who can turn a magical night into a magical season -- multiple seasons, actually.

They went from Smith to Ryan Fitzpatrick to Josh McCown, with a Bryce Petty cameo mixed in. McCown has exceeded expectations (Sunday's last-minute interception notwithstanding), but he's a 38-year-old journeyman. It's a repeat of the Fitzpatrick story, the 2015 version. They've done the Band-Aid thing long enough, and next spring it'll be time to bring in a golden boy and hope he becomes what Smith and Mark Sanchez did not.

"I don't think there's any question they'll draft a quarterback," said Ryan, now an ESPN studio analyst. "My understanding is there will be five quarterbacks out there, and they'll get one of them."

It could be a talent-rich draft, led by USC's Sam Darnold and UCLA's Josh Rosen (if they declare). The Jets have a 48 percent chance of landing a top-five pick, according to ESPN analytics. If they're outside the top five, they may have to trade their way into the top prospects, but I agree with Ryan: They'll find a way, just like they did in 2009 with Sanchez.

"With Sanchez, I knew he wasn't going to be a franchise quarterback, but I thought he'd be good enough to win with," Ryan said. "The guys coming out in this year's class have a much higher rating than Mark had -- and Mark was OK."

Ryan won four playoff games with Sanchez, but he was looking to replace him by 2013. He said the Jets called the Baltimore Ravens and tried to trade for backup Tyrod Taylor, but that went nowhere. He wound up getting Taylor in 2015 as the coach of the Buffalo Bills.

"With Sanchez, we just couldn't have it anymore," Ryan said. "The boneheaded interceptions, especially in the red zone, it was mind boggling. Unfortunately, Mark never really got better. I think that was the disappointing thing to me."

So the Jets drafted Smith in 2013. After one year, Ryan thought he had a promising quarterback but one who needed a stronger supporting cast to realize his potential. He believes the general manager, John Idzik, failed to add the necessary talent.

"I don't think we helped Geno by any stretch of the imagination," Ryan said. "We never added anything that could help him. And he didn't help himself, either. It was that combination."

It shouldn't surprise anyone the Jets' quarterbacks have thrown a league-high 85 interceptions since 2013. Over the same span, they're 31st in passer rating (76.5), ahead of only the Factory of Sadness, the Cleveland Browns.

Now the Jets have McCown, who makes his eighth start Sunday -- only the fifth time in 15 years he'll have that many starts in a season.

"McCown is good for them now because he's a placeholder," Ryan said. "That's what he is -- a placeholder, and he knows it as well as anybody. He knows he's not the long-range answer. None of those guys are, certainly not [Christian] Hackenberg."

Four years ago, the Jets thought maybe they had an answer. It was just another tease.