"Next man up" really hits a team in the solar plexus when a player such as wide receiver Eric Decker goes on injured reserve. Today, after the first practice of the week before playing at Arizona on Monday night, the Jets all came to grips with losing Decker for the rest of the season to a shoulder injury that will need surgery followed by eight months of rehab.
"He's been out two weeks now," head coach Todd Bowles said. "We kind of knew if he didn't respond, he may have to go that route and the other guys have been getting reps, so it's not as bad as it would seem to be."
But, the coach said, "Anytime you lose one of your star players, you're going to have an impact and it's going to be an adjustment period for everybody else until we can get everybody else involved and find out exactly what they can do to make up for his loss. Everybody has to chip in.
QB Ryan Fitzpatrick knows what the loss means. In 17 games playing pitch and catch with "Deck" as Jets the last two seasons, the two have combined for 83 of his 89 receptions for 1,161 yards and 13 touchdowns, with 25 of them converting third downs and 10 scoring red zone TDs.
"No, you definitely can't replace him with one guy," Fitzpatrick said. "I think especially with him in the red area, on third downs and the stuff that he was tops in the league at, that's the stuff that you really miss. But it's going to be a collective effort, it's going to be a couple of different guys having to step in. He had a different skillset than the guys we have. Now, knowing he's not going to be back, we're just trying to play to some of the strengths of the guys we have in his spot."
Jets Begin Practice for the Week 6 Matchup at the Cardinals
Brandon Marshall had similar sentiments, even encouraging next-door neighbor Robby Anderson, trying to quietly get dressed while Marshall was holding his news conference at his locker, to acknowledge the reporters.
"It definitely hurts. He's one of the great receivers in the league," Marshall said. "I'm more than confident the younger guys we have, they'll make plays. ... Right, Robby? Stand up. Right, Robby? All right. Make plays, right?"
Anderson, the rookie free agent, told me later that both Decker and Marshall have helped him get acclimated to the pro level. He said Decker specifically helped him "because I moved over from being Brandon's backup to playing Decker's position. So he definitely helped me just by teaching me the mental aspect and how to be a pro day in and day out."
And Marshall, said Anderson, "has definitely taken me under his wing. He's pulling me along to greatness with him and I appreciate that a lot."
Another who elevated his game even before Decker suffered the shoulder injury is Quincy Enunwa, who now rises from No. 3 wideout to No. 2 opposite Marshall.
"It's tough. You can't really replace Eric Decker. He's his own talent," Enunwa said. "But we've got a lot of talented young guys. I think as the season goes on, they'll have their opportunities to make plays. We all know what they're capable of."
Enunwa even cited Devin Smith, who could come off the Physically Unable to Perform list soon. And rookie Jalin Marshall, who was working through his own shoulder injury, could return for the Cardinals game.
As Fitzpatrick said, "It will be a challenge for us, but I think we have the right guys to step in."
But as Bowles said, there is no other option.
"It's football. Guys get hurt," the head coach said, bringing the "next man up" theme into sharp focus. "He is a favorite of a lot of guys. But you have to move on and play."