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On second and short, the Jets were in desperation mode. In Week 17 of the 2015 season, the game and a playoff berth were on the line. The Jets were backed up inside their own 30-yard line with 25 seconds left and needed a touchdown. Ryan Fitzpatrick lined up in the shotgun, and released a pass deep down the right sideline, seemingly into the heart of the Bills’ prevent defense. But as the camera panned left to track the flight of the ball, journeyman wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins emerged, streaking down the sideline uncovered. The ball hit Thompkins in the hands, and just as he attempted to secure the catch, cornerback Mario Butler came slashing across the field to slam his helmet into the ball.
One play later Fitzpatrick threw a game-ending interception and the Jets were left cleaning out their lockers instead of preparing for Wild Card Weekend. But what if Fitzpatrick released the ball a second earlier to Thompkins? What if, instead of Mario Butler making the game-saving play, Thompkins sidestepped him and trotted into the endzone, giving the Jets an exhilarating victory and a playoff spot? Of course we’ll never know, but it’s always fun to play the “what if” game… so here we go:
Coming off a thrilling victory in Buffalo, the Jets travel to Cincinnati to take on the third-seeded Bengals for their first playoff game in 5 years. The Jets defense bottles up backup AJ McCarron and hold the Bengals to just 10 points. On the offensive side of the ball, the Jets receivers manage to avoid head-hunter Vontaze Burfict and the rest of the Bengals defense. Eric Decker hauls in 2 touchdown passes as the Jets handle the Bengals 24-10, and advance to the divisional round.
In their second playoff game the Jets head to the Mile High City to take on a broken down Peyton Manning and the Broncos. The Jets pull ahead early with touchdowns from Bilal Powell and Jeff Cumberland (too unrealistic?) to take a 14-3 lead at the end of the first half. But the game flips late in the fourth quarter as Manning finds Demaryius Thomas in the endzone to take a 3-point lead. Fitzpatrick is left with 2 minutes to drive the Jets to glory. But it was not meant to be, as Von Miller blindsides Fitzpatrick and knocks the ball free. The Broncos pounce on it, and the Jets go home defeated, knowing they had every chance to take down the eventual Super Bowl Champions.
For his franchise record-breaking season, Ryan Fitzpatrick is rewarded with a 4-year, $46 million contract. Instead of spending the offseason attending charity golf tournaments and sitting courtside at MSG, Fitzpatrick actually picks up a football and works out. Thinking he has the QB position locked up for the next 4 seasons, GM Mike Maccagnan passes on Christian Hackenberg in the 2016 draft.
The offseason training pays off for Fitzpatrick. He leads the team to victory in the first two games, and in Week 3 in Kansas City he tosses 6 touchdown passes. Brandon Marshall and Sheldon Richardson jog off the field side by side, best buds on an undefeated team.
But all good things must come to an end for the Jets. After a strong start, the season takes a turn for the worse. The Jets win just 4 of their remaining 13 games. Fitzpatrick crumbles behind the Jets’ shaky offensive line and is benched in favor of Geno Smith for the team’s final 4 games, all losses.
In the offseason the Jets let Geno Smith walk as a free agent. Fitzpatrick and his enormous contract remain with the team, but he will have to fight with Bryce Petty for the starting job. With the 14th overall pick in the 2017 draft, the Jets take Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson.
And here we are at training camp for the 2017 New York Jets. The big question mark surrounding the team is, as always, at the quarterback position. There’s the favorite Ryan Fitzpatrick, the grizzled veteran who knows the system. There’s Bryce Petty, the 3rd year player who will likely never be more than a career backup. And there’s Deshaun Watson, the highly drafted but unknown arm with boom or bust material.
As they say…the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Photo Credit: NewYorkJets.com