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By DENNIS WASZAK Jr.
NEW YORK (AP) The best season of Josh McCown's career has come to an abrupt and painful end.
The New York Jets quarterback who established himself as a respected leader will miss the team's final three games with a broken left hand that will require surgery.
"It's big for him and it's big for us because he's been leading us all year offensively," coach Todd Bowles said Monday during a conference call. "For him to go down this late in the season ... but it's next-man-up mentality and the next man has to step up.
"But you feel sorry for Josh. He was having a very good year."
Bowles also announced that Bryce Petty will start in McCown's place for New York at New Orleans on Sunday. Petty, a fourth-rounder out of Baylor in 2015, started four games for the Jets last season.
Second-year quarterback Christian Hackenberg remains behind Petty on the depth chart. Bowles said "it's possible" the Jets could bring in another quarterback this week as insurance.
McCown was injured when he was hit by Denver's Shane Ray in the third quarter of New York's 23-0 loss on Sunday.
An X-ray revealed that the 38-year-old McCown's hand was broken, and additional tests Monday revealed the severity of the injury.
"Sometimes you get breaks where you don't need surgery," Bowles said, "but he needs surgery, so that was that."
McCown was emotional after the game while reflecting on what had been the best season of his 15-year NFL career.
He set career highs with 18 touchdowns and 2,926 yards passing - and hadn't missed a snap all season for the Jets (5-8) before leaving briefly Sunday after taking a shot to his hip. McCown came back, only to be knocked out for the rest of the season.
"It's been the best because of the guys, not numbers," McCown said while fighting back tears. "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 and I'm so thankful they let me be a part of this team."
McCown, who signed a one-year, $6 million deal in the offseason, will be a free agent this winter. It is uncertain whether the Jets plan to re-sign him - or if McCown will even want to play another season.
Bowles said the two spoke Monday and the meeting wasn't as emotional as Sunday, but the quarterback's future wasn't discussed.
"We put a lot of things in perspective and me and Josh have a great relationship," Bowles said. "I have respect for him as a player and as a man, and we'll move on from there, but we'll forever be connected."
Last offseason, the Jets parted ways with several high-priced veterans as Bowles and general manager Mike Maccagnan changed the culture around the team's facility.
They wanted more of a family feel with unity the primary objective after a 5-11 season.
Bringing in McCown was a key to establishing that in a locker room that had been filled with tension.
"His leadership meant a lot from the time he walked in the door," Bowles said. "He was just always doing the right thing and saying the right things and helping everybody on the team, not just offensively, but defensively as well."
The journeyman quarterback had a reputation during his previous nine NFL stops of being a team-first guy who approached the game like a player-coach and earned the respect of his teammates with his leadership style.
"The first day of OTAs (in the spring), he organized a players-only practice," center Wesley Johnson said. "It was efficient, one hour, and he's kind of been that guy ever since then. He's just been that guy who kind of controls the offense and puts his thumb down when it's needed to be put down."
When a reporter suggested that it might be difficult for a team to replace someone like that, Johnson wholeheartedly agreed.
"Yeah, he's awesome," Johnson said. "We love him."
Now, Petty gets another opportunity - and possibly his last - to show the Jets whether or not he can be the team's quarterback of the future.
He was the next in line last season after Ryan Fitzpatrick was benched and Geno Smith was hurt, but did little to establish himself in his limited chance before also getting injured.
Petty threw three touchdown passes and was intercepted seven times in six appearances. On Sunday, he was 2 of 9 for 14 yards, misfiring a few times at wide-open receivers.
He'll get a full week to work with the starting offense to prepare for the Saints and try to prevent the Jets (5-8) from clinching a losing season.
Bowles said Petty will get "the majority" of the snaps in practice this week, and offensive coordinator John Morton won't have to change too much in how the Jets do things on that side of the ball.
"I have all the confidence in the world in Bryce," Johnson said. "He's great in the huddle, he's great in the locker room and I know he works hard and he prepares like a starter every week. I'm not worried about him at all. I'm actually excited for the opportunity he can get."
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Updated December 11, 2017