Zach Wilson was confident, comfortable, smart and, after a tough loss, accountable.
The New York Jets’ embattled quarterback was everything during a 23-20 loss to Kansas City on Sunday night that he has been criticized for not being during his three NFL seasons. And it came during a week in which the doubters came from every direction, with even Joe Namath calling for him to be benched.
But now Wilson needs to do it again.
“I’m pumped for him and I’m pumped for the locker room,” coach Robert Saleh said Monday. “Because I think everyone sees it (in practice), but to go out and show that you’re capable of it is a whole other thing.”
Wilson actually outplayed Patrick Mahomes in front of a prime-time TV audience. He went 28 of 39 passing to set a career high for completions to go along with 245 yards and two touchdowns, a 2-point conversion run and a career-best 105.2 quarterback rating.
“It was really cool to see him ball out and just sling the rock,” said right tackle Alijah Vera-Tucker, who was drafted in the first round along with Wilson in 2021. “I feel like he felt really comfortable out there, which for me, being one of his homies, it was a really cool thing to see.”
Wilson’s one major mistake came when he fumbled a snap and lost it while the Jets were driving for a potential tying or winning score.
Instead, Mahomes and the Chiefs kept the ball the rest of the way – during what Saleh called a “bizarre” drive that was helped by some big plays and one questionable holding call on Sauce Gardner that had the coach livid on the sideline and still bothered the next day.
“I’m just going to leave that alone until I get a chance to get clarification (from the NFL),” Saleh said.
But after the game, Wilson shouldered the blame for the loss, standing in the middle of the locker room and apologizing to his teammates.
“I lost us that game and I can not do that,” he said. “I was making it clear to those guys that I need to be better. I need to be better on the little things, the details. It can’t happen.”
The Jets refused to let Wilson take all the blame, not after everything else he did in the game.
“I’m pumped for him, I truly am,” Saleh said. “He’s resilient. He’s gotten dragged through the mud and for him to have tasted a little bit of success, even though we didn’t win – I wish we could have pulled that one out – but I think he’s only going to get better.”
That’s the key now for Wilson, who has made three starts in place of the injured Aaron Rodgers.
While it seemed everyone outside the Jets’ facility was trying to find a solution at quarterback other than Wilson a week ago, he can begin to change the narrative with another solid performance.
“You’ve got to back it up and just keep stacking good days after good days after good days and get to game day and get comfortable and be confident in yourself and play,” Saleh said. “Just let it rip.”
The tight ends. Offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett got Tyler Conklin, C.J. Uzomah and Jeremy Ruckert involved in the passing game, giving Wilson some alternative playmaking options – particularly on rollouts. Seven of Wilson’s 28 completions went to tight ends: Conklin had four for 58 yards, Ruckert two for 26 yards and Uzomah one for a 1-yard TD.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
The run game. The Jets’ backfield was expected to be a strength of the offense, but has sputtered so far – for several reasons, including New York not being able to do anything in the passing game before Sunday night.
Breece Hall ran for 56 yards on six carries, but 43 of those came on one impressive burst. Dalvin Cook has yet to get going, finishing with just 16 yards on five attempts. They could get better in hurry next Sunday against Denver’s struggling run defense.
DE Bryce Huff. Mostly a situational pass rusher during his first three seasons, the undrafted free agent out of Memphis has become a regular on the Jets’ defensive line. His safety was the result of a facemask penalty by Jawaan Taylor and sparked the Jets after they fell behind 17-0.
DE Carl Lawson. Saleh has said the pass rusher is being eased back from a back injury that ailed him during training camp, but Lawson appears to have been surpassed in the D-line rotation by the likes of Huff and Jermaine Johnson. Lawson played just 14 of 70 defensive snaps against the Chiefs.
CB Brandin Echols left against Kansas City with a hamstring injury. … S Tony Adams (hamstring) and backup OL Wes Schweitzer sat out for the second straight game.
5 of 12 – After going 3 for 24 on third down in their previous two games, the Jets showed marked improvement in those situations against a tough Kansas City defense.
The Jets head to Denver to face Sean Payton, who said during the summer Hackett’s brief tenure with the Broncos last year “might have been one of the worst coaching jobs in the history of the NFL.” So, this could be a revenge game of sorts for Hackett.
AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/NFL