Hackenberg arrives to further confuse Jets’ QB problem in loss to Giants

A low-scoring and messy first half set the stage for a late uptick in excitement, centering on the debut of second-round draft pick Christian Hackenberg, but the New York Jets fell to the cross-town rival Giants 21-20 Saturday night.

The rookie quarterback saw his first NFL action in the third quarter, entering the game with the Jets down 14-10. After throwing two incompletions and drawing a delay-of-game penalty on 3rd and 10, Hackenberg surprised many by turning it around. He earned a new set of downs with a 16-yard pass to Zach Sudfeld, and followed that up with completions of 26 and 27 yards to Charone Peake and Robby Anderson, respectively. Hackenberg capped off the drive by finding Anderson again, this time in the near-right corner of the end zone for a 10-yard touchdown.

One Giant three-and-out later, Chandler Worthy returned a punt 50 yards to the Giants’ 14 to lead to a Gang Green field goal, extending the lead to 20-14. The Jets’ defense then halted the Giants’ 10-play, 72-yard drive just two yards from the goal line, and everything looked rosy.

But on the ensuing drive, a Hackenberg pass was batted into the air, intercepted by Andrew Adams and brought to the Jets’ 11, leading to the go-ahead touchdown pass from Ryan Nassib to Tavarres King. Hackenberg couldn’t spark the comeback in his final time out, completing only two of six pass attempts and failing to convert a fourth down.

Hackenberg’s unexpected performance in the third preseason game of the year—he finished 6-for-16 with 105 yards—adds another strange layer to the Jets’ current quarterback situation, especially on a night when Ryan Fitzpatrick missed more than a few open targets and the other quarterbacks offered little more.

It looked as though there would be excitement early on when Bruce Carter blocked the Giants’ punt at the end of their first offensive possession, giving the Jets the ball at the Giants’ 15. But just a few plays later, former Jet nose tackle Damon Harrison sacked Fitzpatrick and forced him to lose a fumble.

The next six drives were almost unwatchable—six punts, three per side, including two three-and-outs for each team. But the Jets’ vaunted secondary turned the tide of the half at the seven-minute mark of the half. Calvin Pryor cut off Odell Beckham Jr.’s route to allow Darrelle Revis to get in position for the interception (and a 23-yard return to the Giants’ 30). Three plays later, Fitzpatrick finally connected with Eric Decker for a touchdown, even despite Janoris Jenkins holding Decker’s arm without drawing a call.

Fitzpatrick played until the final drive of the first half, and Geno Smith entered just before the two-minute warning. Fitzpatrick finished 9-for-16 with 76 yards, the Decker TD and the lost fumble. In just two drives (the end of the second quarter and the start of the third), Smith went a meager 3-for-5 for 14 yards.

The Jets’ defensive starters were much more impressive than the offense. The Giants only netted 47 yards in the entire first half and didn’t cross the 50-yard line in that time. Pryor led the way with six tackles and a sack.

Petty followed Smith and quarterbacked three drives, the first one going for a field goal that made the Jets’ lead 10-0. Petty missed some open targets like Fitzpatrick, though, and on his final drive he mishandled a third-down screen play badly enough to allow 264-pound defensive lineman Kerry Wynn to pick him off and roar down the sideline for a 73-yard return touchdown.

Hackenberg stole the headlines for this game, but outside of his one surprising touchdown drive, none of the Jets’ four quarterbacks played up to their individual expectations. Fitzpatrick clearly lacked timing, which may be the product of missing minicamp and other offseason time to throw to his receivers. Smith and Petty were ho-hum, except for Petty’s pick-six, which was far from “ho-hum.” And for the most part, Hackenberg played like a talented rookie who’s gotten no reps in practice.

The first round of roster cuts are looming. The deadline is 4 p.m. Tuesday. If the Jets cut any of their QBs to alleviate their conundrum, it probably won’t be in this round, but the cuts should be a signal of urgency for the players and the front office alike.

Notes and injury report:

  • Matt Forte made his New York Jets debut in the first half. He carried the ball 10 times for 28 yards and caught two passes for nine more. The yardage isn’t anything to write home about, but he was involved frequently, which may give fans a peek at how the team plans to run their offense in the regular season.
  • Robby Anderson started for Brandon Marshall in an eleventh-hour lineup change (Bowles said post-game that Marshall had a non-serious sore hip). Anderson didn’t catch a pass from Fitzpatrick in two consecutive second-quarter targets; the QB overthrew him on the latter. However, he finished for the game as the Jets’ leading receiver for the second straight week, racking up 65 yards on just four receptions, including the Hackenberg TD.
  • It was the sixth year for MetLife Stadium to host the annual Jets-Giants preseason matchup. With their win, the Giants evened the “Snoopy Bowl” series at 3-3 since the new stadium opened.
  • The only injured Jet of note was David Harris, who left in the first half with a shoulder problem and did not return.

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