Josh McCown spent the 2010 season playing for the Hartford Colonials of the United Football League. He was 31 years old then.
Seven years later 38-year-old McCown was starring for the New York Jets in an upset 34-21 win on “Thursday Night Football” against the Buffalo Bills, a continuation of one of the weirdest careers in NFL history. Somehow McCown has led a New York Jets team that many people didn’t think could win four games all season to a 4-5 record. And McCown’s play is a major reason why they’ve far surpassed expectations.
McCown had another solid game on Thursday night. He ran for a touchdown, his third of the season. Not bad for a 38-year-old. His beautiful deep touchdown pass to Robby Anderson in the third quarter opened up a 17-7 Jets lead, and the blowout started then. It also tied McCown’s career high for touchdown passes in a season, at 13. He has almost half of a season left. If you forget McCown’s history and just judge what has happened this season, he has been one of the better quarterbacks in the NFL through New York’s first nine games.
When you look at McCown’s career stats, nothing indicated this type of season was coming at age 38. Since being drafted in 2002 he has spent time with 10 teams: Cardinals, Lions, Raiders, Panthers, Bears, Buccaneers, Browns, Jets, Dolphins, 49ers (he was cut by the latter two before appearing in a regular-season game). He also spent time with those Hartford Colonials and was an assistant football coach at Marvin Ridge High School in Waxhaw, N.C. in 2011 and 2012. He played scout-team quarterback for the high-school team. From 2008-2012 he started two NFL games and threw 61 passes. He should have been forgotten by the league long ago.
Even if he survived in the NFL until 2017, who could have foreseen him having a career year? Other than an impressive short stint with the 2013 Bears when Jay Cutler was hurt, McCown has never played at this level. Over the last three seasons McCown had started 22 games, and his teams were 2-20 in them. The Jets were expected to be awful. McCown was going to just be the guy taking snaps on a bad team because someone had to.
Instead, McCown has been remarkably accurate with a no-name set of receivers. Coming into Thursday’s game he was completing more than 70 percent of his passes for the first time in his career. He had 12 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He had a 95.3 passer rating. That’s better than Matt Ryan, Derek Carr, Matthew Stafford, Philip Rivers, Jameis Winston, Ben Roethlisberger and Cam Newton, among others. The Jets have won four games and were competitive in just about every loss. McCown, who seven years ago had more career NFL interceptions than touchdowns and was playing in a league nobody has heard of, has been one of the most improbable stories of this season.
Ironically enough, McCown’s steady play has probably knocked the Jets out of a position to draft a top quarterback prospect next spring. It’s not like the Jets can expect magic from McCown again next season, at age 39. Then again, that wouldn’t be much weirder than anything else in his crazy career.
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