DENVER — Josh McCown knew right away.
He knew he was done. Definitely for the rest of Sunday’s game. Likely for the rest of this season. And possibly for his career, which has spanned more than 15 years and eight different teams.
That’s why, when McCown emerged from the trainer’s room in the bowels of Sports Authority Field at Mile High after breaking is left hand late in the third quarter of the Jets’ 23-0 loss to the Broncos, his eyes already were red from the burning of tears.
McCown, who’s been enjoying the finest season of his career at age 38, was raw with emotion when he spoke to reporters. It was when he was asked, given how much he has relished this renaissance season of his, about what he was feeling “emotionally,” that McCown could no longer hold his emotions in check.
He took nearly 20 seconds trying to compose himself before answering with tears in his eyes and his voice cracking.
“It’s been the best [season] because of the guys … not numbers,” McCown said. “It’s been the best because of the group of men in the locker room.’’
“I’m just proud to be a part of it,’’ McCown said. “So thankful they let me be a part of this team.”
It’s actually the Jets who should be thankful McCown has been a part of their team because he’s been the heart and soul of Gang Green.
McCown has been a gift for the Jets. He’s has touched every player in the Jets locker room and had a profound effect on many of them with his selfless leadership.
That’s what made it so difficult to watch McCown get hurt then learn the news it looks like the injury is season-ending. The start against the Broncos was McCown’s 13th of the season, matching his career high for a season, set when he played for the Cardinals in 2004, when most of his Jets teammates were in grade school.
Before Sunday, McCown had played every down for the Jets this season and was on pace to become the first Jets quarterback to do that since Richard Todd. Yes, Richard Todd.
Sunday’s game against the Saints in New Orleans would have been McCown’s 14th start, surpassing his personal high, hopefully en route to playing a full 16-game season for the first time.
So the Jets didn’t just lose a game in noncompetitive fashion Sunday in Denver. They put an end to their best feel-good story, one of the best in the league.
McCown entered Sunday having completed 67.8 percent of his passes with 18 touchdowns and only eight interceptions. Though he did make one bad throw that was picked off by Broncos safety Darian Stewart in the second quarter Sunday, McCown never had a chance with the deplorable performance his offensive line put in.
Yet there he was after the game, sounding like it was he who let his team down. After he was finished with his postgame press conference, McCown walked slowly out of the locker room with his right arm on the shoulder of Todd Bowles. They had a brief chat, and McCown headed toward the team buses.
“You want to be out there with your guys, and I feel like I let them down,” McCown said before boarding the bus. “From this point in your career, each game is so special and precious, so you don’t want it to end this way.”
Asked if his raw emotions stemmed from wondering if this could be the end of his career, McCown said: “Yeah, you never know. You get flooded with emotions about all those things because you don’t know. I don’t know what’s next. The possibility of something coming to an end … you just don’t know. I love these guys so much, these coaches. I love this organization, and it means a lot to me to be here.”
The hour or so after the injury McCown spent in that barren trainer’s room might have been the most agonizing 60 minutes of his NFL career.
“It was emotional,” he said. “You’re just thinking through the game, thinking through everything … thinking through 16 years. It’s just emotional. I’m very, very thankful. I hate for it to end this way, but I’m just so thankful that I got to be a part of this.”
McCown sounded like a guy who’s resigned to this being the end. Here’s hoping it’s not.