The Jets are 0-3 to start the season for the third straight year and yet rookie quarterback Zach Wilson believes this miserable start will be beneficial in the long run.
"I’d say we’re getting more out of it than we would if we were doing well," Wilson said after a 26-0 romp in Denver on Sunday.
New York never threatened in their humiliating loss to the Broncos. They beat themselves with silly penalties and showed early and often that they were unable to hang with Denver on either side of the ball. All the while, Gang Green took steps back in more ways than one rather than building in a positive direction.
Reps against a talented opponent and opportunities to battle as a unit late in games had Wilson feeling positive, though. After all, nobody expected this season to be easy for the rookie quarterback and his unproven supporting cast.
"It’s making us stronger. I feel like it’s making me stronger," Wilson explained. "This is hard. I didn’t experience this in college. And the crazy thing is, I knew it was going to be like this."
Over 12 games in Wilson's dominant junior season at BYU, the signal-caller threw for 3,692 yards, getting picked off only three times while converting on 33 touchdown passes. Through three games in the NFL, Wilson has three times the interceptions (7) as he does touchdowns passes (2), struggling to find a rhythm in his new offense.
The blame can't (and shouldn't) be placed solely on Wilson. Sure, he threw a few interceptions in the fourth quarter, but similar to what transpired in Carolina back in Week 1, the quarterback was running for his life all game, getting sacked five times. His wide receivers hurt his cause even more with several costly dropped passes.
Head coach Robert Saleh made it clear that he doesn't think this team is regressing, even after a loss as frustrating and debilitating as this one. His laundry list of reasons for why Sunday turned out to be a shutout loss had quite a few items, but it's also another teachable moment for his group.
"Playing hard and playing with great effort isn’t going to cut it," he explained. "We talk about effort and technique, then the violence at which we do it. The technique part, execution part, precision part, offense, defense, special teams, and the coaches, everybody operating at a very high level and in a very precise level, is what wins football games. We’re missing that part of it right now."
So, what happens next? It's not like Saleh can strengthen the offensive line and tighten up the secondary with a snap of his fingers. If that were the case, he would've done that already.
These next several weeks—from stadiums on Sundays to the practice fields—are where the growth will take place. It might take some time, but Wilson knows that he and his teammates need to get back to work rather than wallowing after another blow.
"We just have to understand that we need to take it just one day at a time," Wilson said. "People can hate all they want but what’s feeling sorry for ourselves going to do really, right? We need to keep our confidence high and just understand that we’re in this position for a reason. We have the talent, we have the players, and we have the coaches in the scheme to get this thing done.”
Asking for patience is really tough when New York holds the longest postseason drought in the National Football League. Even as early as the third week of the season—as much as this was the expectation—it already looks like Wilson and his teammates will be watching the playoffs from their couches in a few months.
But he does have a point. A first-year head coach, first-year offensive coordinator and first-year quarterback, along with several rookies and inexperienced assets on both sides of the ball, isn't exactly the recipe for immediate success in this league. Everybody knew general manager Joe Douglas was playing the long game here, rebuilding through young talent acquired from the draft and developed internally.
Getting these brutal losses out of the way now is part of the process in becoming a winner, learning both on and off the field about what it takes to contend.
Besides, the veterans on this roster appear to have complete faith in the group of men that suits up in green and white each week. They aren't giving up on this unit any time soon, even if the 2021 season is already looking like it's going to be a long year.
"Unfortunately, that's part of the growing process. You have to stumble a little bit, you have to take those lumps and then eventually you learn and it gets better," defensive lineman Sheldon Rankins said. "I'm not discouraged, I'm not down on anybody in this locker room."
Wilson's favorite target at wide receiver, who admitted he needs to step his game up after another quiet Sunday, echoed Rankins' sentiment.
"We're a good team. We've got a lot of talent, but we just need to put it together," Corey Davis said. "That's the most frustrating part. We know that we have talent. Zero points? We've got too much talent for that."
Finally, coming from an offensive lineman that's been around the block a few times, the belief in the building is that the best is yet to come with this Jets team, even if fans haven't seen that product just yet.
"This is just part of it. You want to get going, you want to get out of the gates and hit the ground running to do well. We haven't been able to do that," Greg Van Roten said. "It's frustrating from a standpoint that we feel like we're a better team than how we're performing on Sundays. We think we're a good team, we just haven't shown it yet."
The challenge now is taking those quality practices and turning them into in-game contributions. Then, it's a must to build on momentum week to week, rather than taking steps back and letting that slip away. These frustrating afternoons full of a lack of execution can take a toll, especially when practices are so productive, but New York's fearless leader continues to stay positive.
"We’re trying to get better every single week. It’s maybe hard for people to see that, but we’re learning a lot in those games," Wilson said. "People are going to hate, and it is what it is, but we’re just going to keep that confidence and just be hungry to keep trying to get that win.”