Thirty-eight must be the new 28 in the NFL, or at least it seems that way for Jets quarterback Josh McCown, who is on pace for the best season of his 15-year career.
If there were an early ballot for NFL Comeback Player of the Year, McCown would get plenty of votes. Who thought at age 38, he would be completing better than 70 percent of his passes and making enough plays to have the Jets at 3-3 heading to Miami on Sunday?
McCown won three straight games for the first time his career and is the 17th-rated quarterback in the NFL with an 89.2 rating. He has completed 136-of-194 throws for 1,374 yards, and seven touchdowns. His rating is being dragged down by six interceptions, including a couple that had the significance of a glorified punt.
“I think he’s doing a really good job of playing the quarterback position,” Jets offensive coordinator John Morton said Thursday.
That’s all well and good, but the Jets can’t afford McCown to keep taking the kind of hits he took Sunday in a 24-17 loss to the Patriots.
McCown dropped back to pass 51 times against New England. Four times he was sacked, and when he did throw, he completed 31 of 47 for 354 yards. He has been sacked 19 times this season, five above the league average.
Ask the Jets if this is an issue and they’ll tell you everyone is fine and working to get better, but McCown won’t finish the season at this rate.
“We’re going to do whatever it takes to win the game,” Morton said. “If it takes running the ball a lot, so be it. If it takes us passing the ball a lot, we can do that.”
McCown had success early against the Patriots but eventually was belted around by their pass rush and forced to use his legs, rushing three times for 21 yards.
“You can make plays with your feet. If it’s there, it’s there,” he said. “But playing from the pocket is how you win in this league.”
The Jets don’t want their 38-year-old quarterback scrambling too often, though playing from the pocket could get him crushed if the Jets don’t tighten their pass protection against a Dolphins defense that has generated 12 sacks in five games. Defensive end Cameron Wake has 3.5 of his 85 career sacks this season.
Any game in which McCown has to throw 50-plus times puts him at risk, though Morton insists his quarterback’s age and durability never will be a factor in the play calling.
“I have no concern because I think he’s in the best shape of his life,” Morton said. “He’s stronger than ever. I think he’s playing at a high level. [His age] doesn’t cross my mind at all. He feels really good.”
McCown’s age was a concern when he was named the starting quarterback over Christian Hackenberg and Bryce Petty prior to the season opener, especially given the talent that surrounded him at that time.
“A 38-year-old quarterback in that offense is not going to make it through the season physically,” Boomer Esiason, the NFL broadcaster and former Jets quarterback, told The Post in August. “Sooner or later, there will be a bump or a bruise and he’ll miss a game, and then you’ll see those guys in there.”
It was a fair assumption then and could become reality if McCown continues to get knocked around the way he was against the Patriots. A productive running game would take the pressure of McCown needing to throw 50 times. A balanced attack would be ideal.
The good news is running backs Matt Forte and Bilal Powell look like they’re ready to return.
“If we get behind, he might drop back 50 times,” head coach Todd Bowles said of McCown. “If we stay ahead, he probably won’t.”
McCown is on pace to be sacked 49 times this season. That’s enough to make a 38-year-old quarterback feel like 48.