For many, Zach Wilson has been the sacrificial lamb of this draft class. While other quarterbacks have been given the benefit of the doubt when it comes to patience, treatment toward Wilson has differed.
It’s easy to see why people are quicker to judge Wilson than the other signal-callers in his class. This is a fanbase with every right to be impatient, supporting a team that has failed to put a good product on the field for more than a decade, particularly at the quarterback position. That sentiment carries over to the greater NFL community, as CJ Mosley astutely observed in his postgame press conference.
“At the end of the day, this is all about respect,” Mosley said following New York’s 33-18 loss to the Eagles on Sunday. “Right now, teams are not respecting us. That’s well-deserved whether it’s by self-inflicted wounds or the history of the Jets.”
The Jets’ futility often makes it difficult to determine how good their quarterback really is. That was the core of the Sam Darnold debate this past offseason. The margins in New York are slim. So it’s easy to look at Sunday’s game against Philadelphia and blame Wilson, but that would be shortsighted.
Because for most of the contest, Wilson looked great, and still, the Jets never had much of a chance.
The Jets scored a touchdown on each of their opening three drives on Sunday, the first of which came on a short field thanks to a 79-yard kick return from Braxton Berrios. Wilson capitalized, completing all three of his passes, including a three-yard touchdown on a slant to Elijah Moore.
After the Eagles answered with a touchdown drive of their own, Wilson marched the Jets down the field again. He converted a third-and-seven on a slant to Corey Davis before a couple quick throws to Moore set up the Jets in the red zone. A screen to Jamison Crowder and a quarterback sneak for a touchdown allowed the Jets to retake the lead.
The throws weren’t show-offy, but they were clean and on target, giving his receivers the chance to run after the catch. They were the kind of throws that Wilson failed to make a week ago.
On New York’s third drive of the game, Wilson unleashed possibly his best throw of the day, 29 yards up the seam to Moore again. A third-down conversion to Crowder once again set up the Jets with a goal-to-go opportunity, and Wilson hit Ryan Griffin on fourth-and-goal for the score.
Heading into the weekend, Wilson had failed to score a first-half touchdown. His passer rating was 4.8 in first quarters and 42.4 in second quarters. On Sunday, his first-half passer rating was 136.9. He completed 12-of-14 passes for 103 yards with three touchdowns and no turnovers. His two incompletions sailed a bit wide despite hitting his receivers hands, and he immediately rectified the mistakes with first-down and touchdown passes on the ensuing plays.
Wilson was near-perfect in the first half. And yet, the Jets still trailed 24-18 heading into the locker room. Newly-signed kicker Alex Kessman missed two extra points. Morgan Moses got beaten for a sack to kill the Jets’ fourth possession before it could get going. The defense — a unit that gave up 175 points in a four-game span — was as abysmal as it had been all year.
The margin for error isn’t just razor thin. It’s virtually non-existent.
Wilson barely stepped on the field in the third quarter. The Eagles held the ball for 14 of the 15 minutes. His first pass hit Tevin Coleman in the face. His second fell incomplete over the middle on third-and-long. By the time he had any chance of getting a rhythm going in the second half, New York was down two scores in the fourth quarter.
The lone interception came on a pass that never should have been thrown. It followed a couple completions to move the Jets to midfield amidst a couple drops from Davis and Moore on outstretched arms. Wilson surveyed his options on third-and-ten, couldn’t find anyone, and was late and high over the middle to Crowder. Marcus Epps picked off the pass and effectively sealed the game.
Even if the pass was thrown perfectly, it wouldn’t have found Crowder’s hands. It was a bad decision. His only other options were to find Jeff Smith for a short gain over the middle or to take a sack, as he got hit on the release. If he chose the former, the Jets would have still been alive on fourth down. Save for a couple garbage time drives that picked up yardage, but didn’t result in points, that was Wilson’s day. He finished 23-38 for 226 yards with three touchdowns and an interception.
For most quarterbacks, that’s more than good enough to win a football game. For the Jets, that’s not good enough to even be in one.
A whole lot needs to improve before the Jets can consistently win games with quality play from Wilson. Some of that starts from the receivers, who dropped a few too many passes. Some of it comes on special teams, which, save for Berrios’s kickoff returns, was horrific. Most of it falls on the defense, though, a unit that should have been paying rent on Sunday for how long they were on the field while their rookie quarterback sat there getting cold on the sideline.
The schedule isn’t kind the rest of the way for Wilson. Four out of the remaining five games are against top defenses. He’ll continue to have strong moments of growth and he’ll continue to make rookie mistakes.
The Jets need to take advantage of the good moments if they want to properly evaluate what they have at quarterback. Otherwise, they won’t be earning anyone’s respect anytime soon.
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