It felt like Bizarro World: Jets Edition on Friday night.
Here was Teddy Bridgewater entering the preseason game after one series from Josh McCown and looking like his old self, marching the Jets down the field for a touchdown.
Then there was Sam Darnold entering midway through the second quarter and showing the poise, pocket presence and arm strength that thrilled the Jets in April when he landed in their laps at No. 3 in the draft.
Could it be the Jets actually have a healthy quarterback situation? Do they have three quarterbacks on the roster who could start in the NFL?
It certainly felt that way Friday night. When was the last time you could say that around the Jets?
Now, it was only one game … in August. The Falcons were not doing anything exotic on defense. Darnold faced backups all night. Bridgewater faced them for most of his time in the game as well. So, perspective is needed here. But you can’t blame Jets fans for dreaming this weekend about what will unfold over the coming weeks and months.
This is a true quarterback competition. This is not Patrick Ramsey and Kellen Clemens trying to unseat Chad Pennington. This is not the sham of last summer with Christian Hackenberg getting all the snaps in preseason and the Jets crossing their fingers he would show something. You have to go back to the early 2000s, when the Jets had both Pennington and Vinny Testaverde, to find a time when they actually had two capable NFL starters you would trust.
Coach Todd Bowles now has an interesting few weeks ahead of him. Does he give Darnold the start on Thursday against the Redskins to see him with and against starters? Last year, McCown did not play in the second or third preseason games as the Jets tried to maximize Hackenberg’s reps. The Jets could follow that same plan this year, but it feels unfair to McCown, who could lose his starting job while watching from the bench.
Darnold has made it clear since he reported to training camp that he is a real contender to start on Sept. 10 against the Lions. Friday night only furthered that idea. If he keeps stacking up strong performances in the preseason, it feels inevitable that he will be the one under center in the “Monday Night Football” opener.
Then, there is what to do with Bridgewater. He is showing no lingering effects of the devastating knee injury he suffered two years ago. There is no doubt he is one of the best 32 quarterbacks in the NFL. Any team that suffers an injury at quarterback certainly will be calling Mike Maccagann about what the cost would be to get Bridgewater in a trade. The Jets likely could land a mid-round pick.
It seems unlikely the Jets will keep all three quarterbacks because once Darnold becomes the starter, and he will become the starter at some point this year, they would have two backup quarterbacks that cost $16 million. That’s a lot of money to spend on backups. But it is rare for a quarterback to last all 16 games in an NFL season. The Jets must decide what is more valuable to them — a future draft pick or Bridgewater in 2018?
We are, of course, getting ahead of ourselves. There are still four weeks until that opener in Detroit. Plenty of things can happen. Ineffective play or an injury could change the whole picture.
Joel Sherman, my colleague at The Post, has written about the Yankees in 1996. They had eight starting pitching candidates in spring training for five spots. Sherman asked manager Joe Torre one day what he was going to do.
“I am never going to have to decide who starts,” Torre told him. “It will be decided for me.”
He was right. Injuries and poor performances sorted things out and the Yankees won the World Series. Things tend to sort themselves out in sports (remember when the Mets had too much starting pitching in March?).
Chances are, the quarterback decision will become apparent to the Jets’ decision-makers by the end of the preseason.
For now, though, it appears the Jets have three quarterbacks for one spot. It is a different kind of quarterback problem than the Jets and their fans are used to having — and one they welcome.