PHILADELPHIA – It was about a year ago, at that time, when the Jets decided that Christian Hackenberg would not be part of their future as quarterback. The Eagles probably came to the same conclusion on Thursday night at Lincoln Financial Field.
The Jets second victory in 2016 was a bankruptcy with the jets. The former Penn State quarterback never saw a time loss during his two regular seasons. He was eventually traded to the Raiders in the offseason and released before signing with the Eagles. He played a large part of the preseason final of the Eagles 10-9, although Hackenberg had nothing to do with the victory of his team.
To think that this was the quarterback the jets hoped to win last year's start job is a bit scary. Two of Hackenberg's first four passes on Thursday night were badly thrown and intercepted. This came after he was released and demanded a delay of the game penalty. In the third quarter, Hackenberg, who ran five times for 66 yards, lost a fumble while trying to climb. At 6-foot-4, 228 pounds, he looks tall in a uniform. Not so much when he tries to play quarterback.
He is now the Eagles problem, or at least until the Super Bowl champions make their final cuts. Hackenberg's performance (7 of 1
Rookie Sam Darnold, USC's second overall pick, did not play, but is expected to kick off the season opener on September 10 in Detroit, although head coach Todd Bowles continues to say he has not made a decision yet. The election of Darnold is facilitated by his impressive performance during the training camp. Veteran Josh McCown, who started Thursday night, will serve as the proven backup and mentor. Teddy Bridgewater's trading with the Saints also eliminates the chance for quarterback controversy in the foreseeable future.
"When I'm the starter, I feel good," said Darnold. "I'm pleased with the insult and excited by the guys in the locker room."
The third quarterback could be John Wolford, the rookie free agent of Wake Forest, who was signed last week. He played most of the game for the jets, though his audition (8 of 20 for 89 yards and an interception) was probably for a place in the practice group. You could move even more before the season opener, but the jets know at least that they are a better team now, as the Hackenberg experiment is over and the era of Darnold has begun.
"We are further ahead than last year overall with the chemistry of the guys," said McCown. "Everything has gotten better."
It's a big step in the right direction for a franchise that has been hit by quarterbacks since Mark Sanchez came into the spotlight after two consecutive appearances in the AFC Championship under Rex Ryan. Michael Vick, Greg McElroy, Geno Smith, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Bryce Petty and Hackenberg were not long term solutions. Now the jets seem to have that in Darnold.
"Obviously, it's a long way to go to understand the defense and the game plan for them," said Darnold. "I learn a lot."
There is certainly growing pain. But Darnold looks talented enough and smart enough to learn quickly. He will need help from a receiving corps that can help Jermaine Kearse get well and a running game that has not been proven. "They're never ready to play," Bowles said. "You have to go play to prove your worth."
The truth is that the preseason for the jets could not have gone much better. Bowles might make fun of his decision at QB, but Darnold looks like he could get ready with McCown when needed. You still have to wonder what the jets in Hackenberg promise to see.
What a difference a year makes.