FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP)Zach Wilson’s teammates were still buzzing a few days after the New York Jets quarterback’s NFL debut.
It wasn’t necessarily because of the stats he put up – which were good but not spectacular. It was the way the rookie remained cool-headed and unfazed while constantly having defenders in his face.
”He’s a tough dude,” wide receiver Corey Davis said. ”I mean, he got hit a lot and just to see him, how he reacted, there was no frustration. There was no anger. None of that. He was just poised, and, you know, he was leading us.
”Obviously, the outcome wasn’t what we wanted, but he showed a lot of heart.”
Wilson was 20 of 37 for 258 yards and two touchdowns to Davis, both in the second half, along with an interception in New York’s 19-14 loss at Carolina last Sunday. He was also sacked six times, hit 10 and pressured 14 times by the Panthers. And he acknowledged feeling pretty sore after the game.
That’s a lot for a rookie to take, especially in his debut – but the No. 2 overall pick in the draft in April brushed it all off. Wilson was voted by his teammates last week as a team captain, an immediate show of respect for a player who’s still learning life in the pros.
”This is coming from a guy that has played with a lot of quarterbacks now, and I think the knowledge that he has of the game as a young football player in his career, he doesn’t get fazed,” said offensive tackle Morgan Moses, who’s in his first season with the Jets after seven in Washington.
”There was not one time that he looked and yelled at the offensive line for not blocking,” Moses added. ”He knows it’s the NFL and guys are going to get beat sometimes and they’re going to send seven (pass rushers) instead of five or four or whatever the case is, and he has hot reads and things like that. But I think he handled it well.”
Most of the blame was aimed at the offensive line, and rightfully so. The pass protection was dismal and the running game couldn’t get going because there weren’t many openings to be had.
”He didn’t blink,” offensive tackle George Fant said. ”He got up and kept going.”
Still, Wilson shouldered some of the responsibility for the breakdowns after the game, and did so again Thursday.
”Pressure-wise, I’ve got to do a better job of handling it,” he said. ”We’re going to clean things up this week, but pressure is a thing that’s team wide. I’ve got to do a better job of just making sure a team doesn’t do that and I’m not getting hit on my back all the time. So, it’s a point of emphasis this week and we’re going to keep working on it.”
The Jets also had to deal with left tackle Mekhi Becton leaving in the third quarter with a dislocated kneecap. He’ll be sidelined at least four to six weeks, so Fant is moving over from the right side to play left tackle and Moses will be the right tackle.
And things need to be a lot better all around Sunday when Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots come to town, looking to make things miserable again for Wilson and the Jets. Belichick has a knack for getting under rookie quarterbacks’ skin, going 21-6 against them since becoming New England’s coach in 2000.
”I’m excited for it,” Wilson insisted. ”I think it’s going to be a good challenge for me – tons of great learning, I’m sure. … It’s no secret what they’re going to throw at us. Now you’ve got to try to stop it. And so that’s going to be the big question.”
The Patriots have been watching film of Wilson as they prepare for the game at MetLife Stadium and they’ve come away impressed.
”You can see why this kid had so much hype coming out of college,” linebacker Dont’a Hightower said. ”He has a cannon.”
Belichick also respects the ability Wilson has shown, during his college career at BYU and now in the NFL, to be able to make plays both in the pocket and scrambling outside of it.
”It’s the unpredictability that comes with players like that,” the Patriots coach said. ”You have things under control, you have a pattern covered and then something happens, and they make a big play.”
That’s exactly what the Jets will be looking for from Wilson, while also focusing on protecting their franchise quarterback and giving him enough time to make those plays.
”That’s what’s so cool about football is this is such a team game, right?” Wilson said. ”And, you know, there are some times where I’m going to bail them out and some times they’re going to bail me out. So I think that’s where it goes hand in hand.”
NOTES: WR Jamison Crowder was activated from the COVID-19 list and was limited at practice with a groin issue, something he was dealing with before he tested positive for the coronavirus. … WR Keelan Cole (knee) was limited, and LB Jamien Sherwood (ankle) didn’t practice and is not expected to play Sunday.
AP Sports Writer Kyle Hightower contributed.
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