FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — The numbers tell the story when it comes to the New York Jets‘ seemingly endless search for a franchise quarterback.

There is 29, as in the number of starting quarterbacks the Jets have had since Joe Namath took his final snap for the team in 1976. A more relevant number, at least this week and the Jets’ game against the New England Patriots, is 12 – as in the number of starting quarterbacks the Jets have had since Tom Brady emerged from obscurity to become the New England Patriots’ starting quarterback in 2001.

Since then, all Brady has done is lead the Patriots to four Super Bowl wins and 13 AFC East championships while vaulting himself on to the very short list of the best quarterbacks to ever play the game.

Even at 39, Brady is as good as ever. In six games since returning from his “Deflategate” suspension, Brady has thrown 16 touchdown passes and just one interception while putting the Patriots in position to, yet again, win the AFC East and potentially earn home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs.

“Obviously, he keeps himself in remarkable shape and he’s an ultimate competitor,” Jets head coach Todd Bowles said. “And he’s playing at a high level like he has been his whole career. You don’t see anything different and that says a lot about the man and his work ethic.”

The Jets, meanwhile, are the yin to Brady’s yang. Ryan Fitzpatrick‘s third act as a starting quarterback will begin Sunday, when he returns to the lineup after missing a game with a knee injury.

That Fitzpatrick gets chance after chance says far more about the Jets’ other options than it does about him. The Jets held Fitzpatrick’s job throughout his six-month holdout. He might have lost the job for good after being benched for Geno Smith following a 1-5 start, but Smith suffered a season-ending knee injury in the second quarter of his first start.

At least Bryce Petty got a full game on Nov. 13, but he directed the Jets to just one touchdown in a 9-6 loss to the Los Angeles Rams and didn’t do nearly enough to convince Bowles he was ready for the job.

“Obviously, if you throw 10 touchdowns, you’ve got to take a look at it,” Bowles said. “Barring anything outstanding, Fitzpatrick would’ve been the starter.”

And even with the Jets long out of playoff contention, and theoretically in position to evaluate for the future, the 34-year-old Fitzpatrick may be the starter for a while, if Bowles’ tepid assessments of Petty and rookie Christian Hackenberg are any indication.

As raw as Petty, a product of a gimmicky spread offense at Baylor, looked against the Rams, he is light years ahead of Hackenberg, a second-round pick last April who somehow managed to complete fewer than 50 percent of his passes in exhibition play, when he was going against mostly third- and fourth-stringers.

“I actually know quite a bit about both of them,” Bowles said. “So it’s not paramount for them to play right now. And right now Fitzpatrick gives us the best option.

“You don’t have to play a person to see what they have.”

Or don’t have, as the Jets will be reminded yet again when they see Brady this weekend.



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