Josh McCown's injury should open two quarterback doors

They kept it interesting for 12 games, which is more than anybody could've expected of the New York Jets, but now it's time to shift into 2018 mode.

Get ready, Bryce Petty.

You, too, Christian Hackenberg.

If Josh McCown's fractured left hand is a season-ending injury, as some in the organization fear, the Jets should use the opportunity (if you could call it that) to evaluate both young quarterbacks.

Yes, I said both Petty and Hackenberg. Why not? At 5-8, the Jets are on the verge of elimination, their schedule is brutal, and their leader could be finished. It's bleak, folks. They might as well take a peek at the kids.

Coach Todd Bowles said Petty will be the starter if additional tests on McCown's hand confirm that it is too risky for him to play -- and that's the right call. Petty is the No. 2 quarterback and is entitled to be the Next Man Up, but that doesn't mean the Jets can't use Hackenberg off the bench if an opportunity presents itself.

They have three games to play. They should be able to find a way to use both quarterbacks. Will it happen? Probably not. The coaching staff is deathly afraid of playing Hackenberg, who is 29 games into his NFL career and has yet to play a snap in the regular season. Frankly, Bowles didn't sound all that fired up about the prospect of having to start Petty, who was rusty and ineffective on Sunday after replacing the injured McCown in the third quarter of the embarrassing 23-0 loss to the Denver Broncos.

Asked if he believes Petty made legitimate improvement in the preseason, when he was Mr. August with the third string, Bowles said, "If he has to play, we'll find out and go from there."

This probably will be Petty's final chance to show the Jets that he belongs in their future. Chances are, they've already made that determination (his stock is down), and it'll be tough to change minds. Have you seen the remaining schedule? The Jets face the New Orleans Saints (9-4) on the road, the Los Angeles Chargers (7-6) at home and the New England Patriots (10-2) on the road. This could get ugly.

"I'm ready to go," Petty said after his 2-for-9, 14-yard performance. "We've prepared. We've worked. That's the tough part about being a backup: limited reps. So we'll get some reps and hopefully fix the things on film that I need to fix."

Those who had been clamoring for Petty and/or Hackenberg will find out quickly why Bowles had no thoughts of replacing McCown, the brain and heart of the offense. Except for Sunday, in his worst game of the season, McCown has elevated those around him with his sheer competitiveness.

"We have to pick up the slack in the [quarterback] room," Petty said.

Unless McCown receives unexpectedly good news from the doctors, the Jets will be in a bad spot for the final three weeks. Things couldn't get any worse from playing his two understudies.