The Jets have had their fair share of embarrassing outings when it comes to playing the New England Patriots.
The Butt Fumble from Mark Sanchez that led to a 49-19 drubbing on Thanksgiving and the 33-0 blowout on Monday Night Football where Sam Darnold said he was “seeing ghosts” are the lowlights of a current 2-19 skid against the Patriots since that momentous playoff win in 2011.
On Sunday, in the first home game with fans in 21 months, New York submitted its latest entry to the pile of humiliating defeats at the hands of Bill Belichick. Arguably the greatest coach of all time proved once again why his team owns the Jets—and rookie quarterbacks.
Belichick’s teams are now 22-6 against rookie signal-callers, allowing just 20 touchdown passes with a whopping 41 interceptions in that span.
Zach Wilson suffered the same fate as so many before him, throwing four interceptions, including two on his very first two passes of the game. The early miscues put the Jets in a deep hole.
Two drives later, with the offense moving the ball down 10-3, Wilson threw his third pick, this one far worse than the others. When he tossed his fourth to open the second half, a prayer deep down the field to seemingly no one, a MetLife crowd as loud and excited as ever just two quarters ago unleashed an echo of boos on the rookie.
When the game mercifully came to an end and the dust settled on a 25-6 loss for the Jets, Robert Saleh tried to pinpoint Wilson’s issue.
“He's an electric dude and he’s competitive as crap and he wants to win so bad,” Saleh said. But sometimes it’s okay to be boring. That’s probably the lesson from this one.”
Saleh, to his credit, is right on the money. Wilson’s picks were primarily a result of trying to force plays that just weren’t there. All of them came on throws deep down the field. Save for the one that bounced off Corey Davis’s fingertips, they were all ill-advised reads where he would have been better off checking the ball down or throwing it away, boring as that may be.
It’s an understandable flaw for Wilson, a gunslinger who made a living launching deep balls on oft-broken plays in college. His arm has given him the excuse to make throws most quarterbacks should keep holstered. This time, he bit off more than he could chew.
Launching the ball into traffic when the play breaks down might work at BYU. It won’t work in the NFL.
Across the sidelines, fellow rookie Mac Jones showed exactly what boring looks like and why it’s okay. The difference between Jones and Wilson was that Jones graciously accepted the checkdowns and short throws underneath without panicking. And while those throws weren’t there as frequently for Wilson, he wasn’t defaulting to them when they were. There were multiple short outs to Davis and Tyler Kroft that could have been catch-and-run opportunities. Instead, those yards were left on the table because Wilson was looking deep downfield instead of capitalizing on the easy underneath throw.
Wilson’s strength will always be his ability to make the elite-level plays because of his creativity and arm talent, but he needs to wield that judiciously. The big plays will stem from the smaller, more “boring” ones.
Some of that falls on Mike LaFleur, whose roots from the Kyle Shanahan offense should make him well-suited for establishing a short passing game and imparting the need to adhere to it to his quarterback.
That needed to be the pivot when Wilson threw those two early picks. The Jets were running the ball effectively, but they needed to compliment that with shorter throws. Instead, on first-and-goal from the eight, they ran it three times in a row and kicked a field goal. LaFleur needed to toe the line between reeling Wilson in and taking the ball out of his hands entirely, a difficult task for a first-time coordinator with a rookie quarterback facing a deficit.
Expect that to improve going forward.
Even in a humiliating loss, however, it’s easy to find positives on the Jets’ side. The offensive line was lightyears better than it was a week ago. George Fant held his own at left tackle. Alijah Vera-Tucker and Connor McGovern routinely opened holes in the B gap. Morgan Moses was the best offensive player on the field, finishing fourth in the NFL in pass-rush win rate on Sunday, per NFL Next Gen Stats. With the protection they were providing and the success running the ball, decent quarterback play would have been enough to make this game competitive.
Unfortunately, New York didn’t get anything close to that. Wilson was the primary catalyst in the Jets’ collapse.
If Gang Green can pair the improved offensive line play from Week Two with the quarterback play from Week One, they will be able to compete moving forward.
Because ultimately, Wilson’s mistakes are corrigible. There’s a difference between his interceptions and Sam Darnold’s. Darnold made mistakes because he was tentative and afraid. Wilson makes mistakes because he is unabashedly unafraid. The latter is far more correctable.
When asked if he was seeing ghosts on Sunday, Wilson laughed.
“No,” he said. “Definitely not.”
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