The Jets are going forward with Ryan Fitzpatrick as their starter. Head coach Todd Bowles is in the business of winning ball games and former Jets QB Chad Pennington feels starting the veteran and developing Bryce Petty (and even rookie Christian Hackenberg) are not mutually exclusive concepts.
"The development piece of it — in my opinion — is something that's talked about way too much," Pennington said this week on the The Jets Podcast Network. "Yes you have to develop players, yes there's a time and place for that. But you have to be judicious in how you do that and when you do that and don't sacrifice the rest of your team just for the development of one guy."
Fitzpatrick turned 34 on Thursday and he will be back under center Sunday against the Patriots as Bowles looks for win No. 4. Pennington believes Bowles is making the right decision by starting the veteran and he insists the Green & White can continue to properly develop Petty at the same time.
"From Coach Bowles' perspective, he's trying to generate some positivity in the locker room," he said. "How do you do that? By playing good solid football and winning games. And how do you do that? You play the best players who give you the best chance to win the game. And so right now, he's saying that Ryan Fitzpatrick gives us the best opportunity to win a game."
Petty, who was limited by a shoulder injury early in the season and didn't become the team's backup until Geno Smith went down with a knee injury in Week 7, continues to get valuable reps at practice every day. Instead of running the scout-team offense, Petty is getting a number of reps with the starters.
"I don't think you're stunting the growth or the development of Bryce Petty by watching Ryan Fitzpatrick work. By the way, you're actually probably helping his development because I would imagine he is getting some reps with the ones now," Pennington said. "He's not just running the scout team. With the help of Ryan Fitzpatrick and the state of the team, he is working in there. And also with Geno Smith being injured, he's getting some of those reps, which is part of his development."
With Fitzpatrick dealing with a sprained knee in Week 10, Petty made his first career NFL start. The second-year passer completed 19 of 32 passes for 163 yards with 1 TD and 1 INT in the Jets' 9-6 loss to the Rams. Pennington saw some good things in Petty, labeling the 52-yard vertical strike to WR Robby Anderson as "fantastic" and adding that leading a 99-yard scoring drive in the NFL against a stout defense was an impressive accomplishment. But he also saw some things that are typical for a young QB like not trusting his footwork and staying on receivers too long.
"One thing I learned as a young quarterback is that you have to hit the easy ones. The ones that for all intents and purposes are 100% completions whether it be check-downs or guys that are just wide open and nobody is within 10 yards, you have to hit them," Pennington said. "It's not like college where you get those opportunities back. You don't get those opportunities back and that's very difficult to learn as a young quarterback. You have to hit them especially when you're trying to generate momentum and a spark."
After Bowles declared that Fitzpatrick will start his ninth game this weekend, Petty displayed his maturity and insisted he'll continue to prepare like he's the starter.
"You can develop in practice," Pennington said. "These practices aren't like some of the youth practices that I see where you go out and stretch and run a couple of plays and you call it up. These practices are designed to develop and to truly look at players from a critical eye, so it's not just about games."
In each of his last three starts, Fitzpatrick has led go-ahead touchdown drives in the second half. Pennington acknowledged his inconsistent play at times, but he says there is no reason Fitzpatrick can't get the job done. It was at that point last year when Fitzpatrick went on a tear, firing for 13 TDs against just 1 INT as the Jets went on a five-game winning streak between Weeks 11 and 15.
"As a captain of the ship, you have to keep the ship together and you have to make sure there is no fraying and there are no divisions going on," Pennington said. "And you do that by your leadership."