FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) — Josh McCown has had the type of season that few people — other than the New York Jets quarterback himself — could have expected.
He was widely viewed as simply a place holder, a veteran who would bridge the gap until the next franchise quarterback stepped up and took his spot under center.
McCown still may very well be just that. But a funny thing happened along the way: The 38-year-old McCown has had the best season of his 15-year career and established himself as an emotional leader who has the Jets still thinking playoffs in early December.
Oh, and coach Todd Bowles reiterated on Wednesday that he will be New York's starter for the final four games of the regular season.
"That was my plan and my expectation, so to hear that reaffirms it, but I had every expectation of doing that anyway," McCown said. "So I'm glad to hear it and excited about this game and then the rest of the season."
McCown will start his 13th game on Sunday at Denver, matching his career high set back in 2004 while playing for Arizona in his third NFL season.
Since that year with the Cardinals, McCown had started more than nine games just once: when he was under center for 11 games with Tampa Bay three years ago.
Now, he has a shot, barring injury, to play in all 16 for the first time.
"Certainly, it's something that I would like to accomplish, there's no doubt about it," he said. "It's a one-game-at-a-time mentality, but I have a ton of respect for the guys that have played and started for a long time in consecutive games, whether it's (Brett) Favre, or Tom (Brady) or Peyton and Eli (Manning), all those guys. It's impressive what those guys have been able to do.
"So for me just to go out, especially at this point in my career, and get 16 games is something to be proud of."
Tossing a career-high 18 touchdown passes is also quite the accomplishment. Last Sunday, McCown threw for 331 yards and a TD and also ran for two scores in leading New York to a 38-31 victory over Kansas City .
The two touchdown runs put McCown in an elite club: He joined Jim Thorpe and Doug Flutie as the only players in NFL history to rush for two scores at 38 or older. Thorpe was 38 when he accomplished it for the Canton Bulldogs in 1926, while Flutie was 41 with the Chargers in 2003.
"Somebody told me that earlier," McCown said. "I didn't realize that (Thorpe) was playing at 38, so good for him. It's cool. Like I said the other day, whatever you can do to help your team and move the football and accomplish whatever that situation is and score, then we'll do that."
His performance against the Chiefs also earned him AFC offensive player of the week honors for the third time in his career.
McCown's five touchdown runs tie him for first among NFL quarterbacks. That list includes Tennessee's Marcus Mariota, Carolina's Cam Newton, Dallas' Dak Prescott and Cleveland's DeShone Kizer — none of whom were even in high school when McCown made his NFL debut in 2002.
"He's 38, but he looks like he's 26 out there," wide receiver Jermaine Kearse said. "He's been huge for us, his leadership throughout the week and the whole season has allowed us to get better and better."
McCown signed a one-year, $6 million deal in the offseason, and could become a free agent. He might have done enough to warrant the Jets to bring him back next year — even if he's not the future of the franchise.
Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg are the youngsters on the depth chart below McCown, and neither was able to surpass the veteran over the summer despite playing the majority of the preseason snaps. Bowles and offensive coordinator John Morton are content to let McCown play out the string while both Petty and Hackenberg remain on the sideline.
"I watch them work every day and they work really hard on the practice field and in the film room, so I do believe that wholeheartedly that when their next opportunity comes, they're going to be better for it because of the work that they put in right now," McCown said.
"I don't think they're losing anything by not necessarily playing just yet. I think you can gain, because you get to see and you get a front row seat to a regular-season game every week, so you're getting to see and learn and I think those are good things."
But the Jets are likely to go after a quarterback in the draft, hoping to find a player who can be a leader moving forward.
And, McCown might be the perfect complement to whomever is drafted — even if that means moving from the huddle to the sideline next season.
"I think every guy in this locker room, when your number's called, you play until your opportunity is gone," McCown said. "So that hasn't changed. I continue with that mindset."