It took 10-plus quarters of football before quarterback Christian Hackenberg took a snap in a game as a pro, but on Saturday the Jets' 2016 second-round draft pick made his NFL debut in the MetLife Bowl.
"It was just a cool experience," he said. "I was just trying to take it in. There was a lot of work that went into that over the years, so to finally get out there was pretty cool."
Early in the fourth quarter, with the Green & White trailing 14-10, Hackenberg led a seven play, 75-yard drive that culminated on a 10-yard scoring pass to WR Robby Anderson. The go-ahead touchdown was the last of four consecutive completions.
"Christian stepping in there when he did and getting his first action in an NFL game, no matter if it's preseason or regular season, the butterflies are probably going a little bit," said Jets QB Ryan Fitzpatrick. "He came out and led a nice drive to get into the end zone and threw some really nice passes."
"It was sweet. I wanted to go celebrate with my guys," Hackenberg said of the touchdown. "I thought it was big for us and the team at that point in time. Robby made a great play, understood the coverage and went to our landmark and he was able to finish that off."
The celebration was brief. In his third series, Hackenberg made a rookie mistake. From the shadow of his end zone, he was picked off by Giants S Andrew Adams on a pass intended for TE Wes Saxton. Two plays later, the Giants' Ryan Nassib threw the eventual game-winning TD to WR Tavarres King as the visitors claimed a 21-20 victory.
"He was up and down," head coach Todd Bowles said. "He missed some throws, but he made some throws. It was good to get his feet wet."
The Penn State product, who finished 6 of 16 for 105 yards, will undoubtedly use the experience as a learning one.
"I think each week has been better and better, just from feeling more and more comfortable. It's a new environment," he said. "Each and every day is an opportunity to learn something and get better at some areas. I think that's ultimately how I've approached everything."