EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - Just four days ago, Ryan Fitzpatrick was pretty sure he had already thrown his last pass for the Jets. So when he jogged out into the Jets' huddle once again late in the first half on Sunday, he said "We almost all had to laugh at the situation, just the irony of it."
It was, as he said, "pretty ironic". But there's nothing funny at all about the Jets' continuing quarterback mess. Every time they make a decision about a quarterback it turns out to be a bad one.
And this time, there is no good decision for them to make.
Really, it couldn't have happened in a more Jet-like way on Sunday, either, with the deposed Fitzpatrick had to replace his replacement, Geno Smith, when Smith injured his right knee midway through the second quarter of what turned out to be a 24-16 win over the Baltimore Ravens. Now the Jets might be stuck with a 33-year-old quarterback they didn't want to play anymore.
Or maybe even worse, they'll have to make things even messier by benching him again.
Remember, as ridiculous as it seems, the Jets (2-5) think this season isn't over. They see three winnable games in front of them and envision being 5-5 heading into their bye. And many of their players won 10 games behind Fitzpatrick last season and they didn't exactly seem thrilled with the quarterback change.
At least they understood Fitzpatrick had been awful this season, and that Todd Bowles was left with no other choice. But on Sunday, in relief, Fitzpatrick was 9 of 14 for 120 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions. Not great, but good enough for a win.
And now Bowles may have to tell his veteran players he's sitting Fitzpatrick again?
"It's too early to tell right now," Todd Bowles said. "We'll see what the injury status is before I make that determination."
Maybe Smith's injury makes the decision easy for Bowles. Smith - who was 4 of 8 for 95 yards, thanks to a short pass that Quincy Enunwa turned into a 69-yard touchdown before he left -- said "I don't think it'll be anything too significant". He added that "Honestly, I was begging to go back out there" and he appeared to be moving OK on the sidelines and again after the game. But he really has no idea and he'll have an MRI on Monday. Then we'll all know if Bowles has any decision to make at all.
But here's the bigger problem: None of this actually matters. The Jets are probably going to have to go 8-2 the rest of the way to make the playoffs, and they still have two games left against the Patriots. This season is essentially over. The most important thing they need to do now is figure out who their quarterback is going to be in 2017.
It's definitely not going to be Fitzpatrick. The Jets made that clear when they only gave him a one-year contract, which is why it makes no sense to turn back to him if Smith is healthy enough to play. And really, even going to Smith is pointless since his contract is up at the end of the season too and he's almost certainly not the Jets quarterback of the future.
Ideally, they'd look at Bryce Petty, but he missed more than a month of practice with a shoulder injury he suffered in the summer, and the Jets feel that he's not quite ready to play. Maybe if Smith's knee is worse than he thinks, Petty can get ready by getting more practice reps as Fitzpatrick's backup over the next few weeks. But it's likely his time as a Jets starter is probably at least a month away.
So in the meantime, the Jets are stuck. More proof - and a lesson for Jets GM Mike Maccagnan as he heads into the offseason - that teams that don't have a franchise quarterback are constantly searching for one.
And the Jets, as what seems like a decades-long search continues, are left with nothing but drama. A week ago, as Fitzpatrick was continuing to unravel, Smith told ESPN that he was getting "antsy" to play and he was stalking around the sidelines like he was trying to remind his coaches he was there. Then on Sunday, Fitzpatrick declared that "Yeah," he should be the Jets starter the next week in Cleveland, and he basically took management to task for their lack of faith in his ability.
Well, sure, that has to be tough. Just like it was tough for the owner, GM and coach to watch Fitzpatrick throw no fourth-quarter touchdowns and 10 fourth-quarter interceptions this season. And that is surely why they decided to give Smith a try. Smith was the old regime's quarterback of the future, but at 26 he was at least worth one last look before the Jets gave up on him completely.
Now they may have lost the chance to do that. Or they might feel forced to inexplicably give up that chance. Meanwhile, the only two quarterbacks under contract for next season - Petty and Christian Hackenberg - aren't ready for the Jets to take a real look at yet.
It's a quagmire, which is basically what the Jets' quarterback situation has been forever. They have been on a never-ending carousel of mediocre quarterbacks, stop gap solutions, and quarterbacks of the future who just don't quite work out as expected. Now they're stuck in between two who probably don't figure into their future.
Bowles may have to make a difficult choice, but in the end it's one that won't really matter. All that matters is doing whatever they can to make sure they have a real quarterback of the future in place for next season, so they're never stuck in a mess like this again.