EAST RUTHERFORD — The Jets are supposed to be a bad football team this season. Many believe they’ll be the very worst in the NFL.
But Saturday night, as the preseason got under way, the Jets looked like something else. A football team that maybe, just maybe, won’t be that bad.
The first teamers looked downright good, and quarterback Christian Hackenberg showed definite signs of progress in extensive action as the Jets beat the Titans 7-3 in the preseason opener at MetLife Stadium.
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It’s silly to read too much into a preseason game, especially the first preseason game. The results don’t matter and winning is not the priority. But after a training camp fraught with doom and gloom, this was a night of mostly positives.
Quarterback Josh McCown marched the first team offense down the field for an opening drive touchdown. Defensive end Leonard Williams got a sack as the Jets first-team defense allowed only one first down in two drives.
And then there was Hackenberg, who had a good night by any measure. He completed 17-of-24 passes for 119 yards and looked confident and comfortable as he played the majority of the game.
This was far different than the version of Hackenberg we last saw in game action. This was Hackenberg’s first game since Sept. 1, 2016, when he played the preseason finale at Philadelphia. Hackenberg struggled that night, completing only 11-of-31 passes and throwing a mind-numbingly bad interception that he should never have tried to throw in the first place.
But in new offensive coordinator John Morton’s system, Hackenberg looked comfortable and poised — despite playing only one drive with the first teamers. Playing mostly with the backup offensive line and the backup receivers, Hackenberg proved that he’s made considerable progress in the last 12 months.
His two best throws of the night were on his final drive of the night: a 12-yard pass to tight end Jason Vander Laan and a 14-yard pass to Marquess Wilson in the third quarter. Both passes were strong throws to the sideline, leading the receiver perfectly.
But there were also mistakes. Hackenberg’s final play of the night was a turnover on a botched snap — it was difficult to tell if it was Hackenberg’s fault or the center’s. He also nearly had a pass intercepted in the first half after it was tipped at the line. But overall, it was a good night.
McCown, who got the start, also had a strong night.
The 38-year-old marched the Jets’ offense down the field on the opening drive, going 78 yards in eight plays. The highlight of the night was a perfectly-placed, 53-yard pass to Robby Anderson down the right sideline. Anderson, the Jets’ presumed No. 1 receiver after the loss of Quincy Enunwa, hauled in the pass at the Titans 2-yard line. Charone Peake caught a four-yard touchdown pass three plays later to get the Jets on the board.
McCown finished 3-of-4 for 72 yards and the touchdown. Anderson had three catches for 71 yards, and Chris Harper, continuing his solid play from training camp, caught two balls for 21 yards.
It wasn’t all good. Kicker Chandler Catanzaro, who has struggled in camp, missed wide left on a 55-yard field goal attempt. Punter Lachlan Edwards, the only punter on the roster, struggled. One of his punts went only 14 yards, and he failed to pin the Titans offense deep in Jets’ territory.
Corner Darryl Roberts was burned for a 42-yard gain, and Bryce Petty didn’t do much as he played the final quarter and change behind Hackenberg and McCown. Petty finished 2-of-6 for 16 yards and took a hard hit on a sack.