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Jets will start Fitzpatrick if healthy

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FLORHAM PARK, N.J.- The New York Jets’ quarterback on Sunday will be Ryan Fitzpatrick. Unless it’s Geno Smith.

Head coach Todd Bowles isn’t quite at Bill Belichick’s level when it comes to playing mind games in regards to the availability of an injured player, but he didn’t seem to mind painting a muddied picture regarding just who will line up behind center on Sunday, when the reeling Jets host the suddenly contending Jacksonville Jaguars at MetLife Stadium.

It only took two questions Wednesday for Bowles to be asked if he knew who would start at quarterback against the Jaguars.

“Ryan,” Bowles said.

OK. But three questions later, Bowles was asked if he’d be able to tell if Fitzpatrick – who suffered torn ligaments in his left thumb in the first quarter of last Sunday’s 34-20 loss to the Oakland Raiders – was playing with discomfort this Sunday.

“Well, I can see it in practice this week,” Bowles said. “I have three days of practice with him. If I see the progress that he’s making, then he’ll start on Sunday. If not, Geno will start.”

Smith is also at less than 100 percent after taking several hard shots to his left shoulder and midsection while quarterbacking the Jets in relief of Fitzpatrick. Bowles said both players were full participants in practice Wednesday.

“It was making sure they are healthy and they aren’t faking it,” Bowles said. “We don’t want to put a guy out there that is injured. We want to play the healthy guy.

“(They would) rather that guy step aside and let somebody play that is healthy, but those guys practiced fully and they showed they were capable of doing everything we wanted them to do.”

But everyone will have to wait until Sunday to find out how Fitzpatrick will play with a left thumb that will eventually require surgery. Fitzpatrick usually hands off with his left hand, but while he admitted he’ll wear a glove, he coyly declined to reveal if he was going to change his routine to compensate for the busted digit.

“It will be a mystery,” Fitzpatrick said.

Then again, maybe it won’t. Fitzpatrick was asked later in his press conference if he’s learned anything now that he’s suffered the first thumb injury of his career.

“I found out that your left thumb is not real involved in taking a snap,” Fitzpatrick said. “So that was a pleasant surprise.”

SERIES HISTORY: The 11th regular season meeting and the Jaguars lead the series, 6-4. The Jets have won the last two games, including a 17-10 victory in the most recent meeting Dec. 9, 2012 at EverBank Field. Running backs Bilal Powell and Shonn Greene each ran for a touchdown apiece as the Jets won in Jacksonville for the first time. The most memorable game between the teams took place Jan. 10, 1999, when the Jets beat the Jaguars, 34-24, in an AFC Divisional Playoff game at the Meadowlands. Receiver Keyshawn Johnson put together one of the greatest games in franchise history by rushing for a touchdown, catching a touchdown pass, recovering a Jets fumble and intercepting the final pass of the game by Mark Brunell as the Jets advanced to the AFC Championship Game for the first time since 1982.

GAME PLAN: The Jets’ quarterback will either be a one-handed Ryan Fitzpatrick or a two-handed Geno Smith and the top two wideouts, Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker, are both banged up. So the whole world will know RB Chris Ivory will get the ball a lot as the suddenly reeling Jets try and grind out a victory. The task won’t be easy against a Jaguars squad that’s allowed a league-low 3.5 yards per carry, but Jacksonville has given up 100 yards rushing four times in seven games. Even a hobbled Fitzpatrick won’t be able to resist trying to air it out a few times, so Ivory will need to wear down the Jaguars in order for the Jets to try and go for the big aerial blow.

Defensively, mistake-prone Jaguars QB Blake Bortles provides the Jets a chance to get back on track after last week’s embarrassing loss to the Oakland Raiders. Bortles has big numbers this season (15 touchdowns and an average of 259 passing yards per game) but tends to hang in the pocket and wait a tick too long to try and make the big pass downfield. The Jets are likely to blitz him heavily in hopes of forcing mistakes. Rattling Bortles will force the Jaguars to turn to rookie RB T.J. Yeldon, who is coming off his first 100-yard game but going up against a Jets run defense furious after it was gashed by Raiders RB Latavius Murray.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH

–C Nick Mangold/Wesley Johnson vs. NT Roy Miller.

Mangold appears likely to miss his second straight game with a neck injury, so the Jets are going to have to hope Johnson’s second NFL start goes better than his first, when RB Chris Ivory was stonewalled to the tune of 17 yards on 15 carries. Johnson will have to move Miller in order to give the Jets a chance at building an offense that’s not reliant on an injured QB Ryan Fitzpatrick or inefficient QB Geno Smith.

–DE Muhammad Wilkerson and/or DE Sheldon Richardson vs. LT Luke Joeckel: As a rookie last year, Jaguars QB Blake Bortles absorbed a whopping 55 sacks, eight of which were charged to Joeckel. The line and Bortles have been a little better this season – Bortles was sacked 19 times in the first seven games – but Wilkerson and Richardson should be active on Sunday as the Jets try and harass Bortles into the type of mistakes he’s been prone to making since reaching the league.


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