With less than three minutes left in the fourth quarter on Sunday, Zach Wilson made arguably the most impressive play of his NFL debut.
The rookie dropped back on first down, quickly stepping up in the pocket as it collapsed around him. Just before getting walloped by a Panthers defender, Wilson unleashed a strike 30 yards down the field—and to the sideline—to an open Denzel Mims.
Pause the film right as Wilson is releasing the football and he's practically folding like a rag doll, keeping his eyes up while sensing the impending contact. And yet, even under duress and off balance, the first-rounder was on the money.
That 40-yard gain set up Wilson's second touchdown of the afternoon, cutting Gang Green's deficit to just one score after a rocky and scoreless first half.
An explosive play of that nature would've resonated with his teammates and coaches either way, especially considering the impact it had at that point in the fourth quarter. But when you factor in the barrage of hits that Wilson went through up to that point, constantly pressured as his offensive line unsuccessfully attempted to protect him against Carolina's pass rush, Wilson's toughness was even more extraordinary.
"He took a shot and popped back up too," wide receiver Corey Davis said. "That's what we want. We want tough guys and dudes who have no quit. And that's what he exemplifies."
Davis wasn't the only one to notice Wilson's composure and grit.
"This is coming from a guy that has played for a lot of quarterbacks now," veteran tackle Morgan Moses said. "He doesn't get fazed. There wasn't one time that he looked and yelled at the offensive line for not blocking. He knows it's the NFL. Guys are going to get beat sometimes."
On Sunday, Wilson was sacked six times. It seemed like he was pressured almost every other snap. It makes you wonder how much better the signal-caller would've performed if he had more time to set his feet in the pocket and make accurate throws in rhythm.
Even with spotty protection, Wilson was able to throw for 258 passing yards with 20 completions and two touchdowns. It wasn't a perfect debut—Wilson threw one interception and made a few mistakes—but you can't ask for much more from a rookie in his first ever NFL game.
"He showed resolve and he’s fearless. He really is. He’s only going to get better from this," head coach Robert Saleh said on Sunday. "It’s a lot of great things for him to learn off of and we’re still really excited about him. I believe we’ve got a good one."
The toughness Wilson showed is a testament to his dedication and will to win, but as a leader on this young team, the quarterback made a lasting impression on those around him. While running for his life all game long, the 22-year-old kept putting his body on the line, putting his all into every play and never blaming those around him.
The consensus from the players that have spoken to reporters since Sunday's loss have made it clear, echoing Saleh's sentiment, that Wilson is the kind of quarterback and leader they want to go to battle with.
It might seem like an intangible that won't translate to wins on Sunday, but as New York builds this unit into a contender, that attitude and trust between teammates could go a long way for years to come.
"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 he was leading us," Davis said. "He's gonna be great here. I'm excited to have him and we're going to do great things."
- Return of Crowder, Cole Is 'Priceless' For Jets' Offense
- Former Jets QB Chad Pennington Preaches Patience For Rookie Zach Wilson
- Jets' Wall Crumbles Against Panthers, Showing Why Joe Douglas Has Some Work to Do