New York Jets quarterback Zach Wilson‘s developmental track is completely askew with the team’s emergence. New York fell out of the playoff picture on Sunday, from the fifth spot in the AFC to the eighth spot. There’s plenty of season left for the Jets to scrap their way back into the Top 7. They are ahead of schedule in their rebuild; no one thought they’d compete until next year.
But if Wilson plays like he did on Sunday against the New England Patriots, then the Jets don’t stand much of a chance. As good as their defense is — and I think it’s a Top 5 unit — Wilson was holding back his team in Week 11 when the Jets lost 10-3 in Foxborough. It was the worst quarterback play I’ve seen from a starter in years. And that’s not hyperbole.
Robert Saleh called his team’s offensive performance “dog s—.”
The Jets have a tough decision to make. They need to commit their 2022 season to the continued development of Wilson. Or they need to commit their 2022 season to making the NFL playoffs — which would mean experimenting with other options at quarterback. Both are risky propositions.
New York spent the No. 2 overall pick on Wilson last year. The Jets knew when they drafted him that he would require significant development. In college, he enjoyed unique support in the BYU offense, which often gave him oceanic passing pockets and simple reads. Wilson’s physical tools were NFL-ready, but he would need to develop his aptitude for the game. So far, that hasn’t happened. And it’s hard for an organization to admit it was wrong on the second overall pick.
But against the Patriots, Wilson looked as overwhelmed as ever.
He missed simple throws. He seemed to forget the plays. His game film was more of a blooper reel than anything else. He finished the game 9-of-22 for 77 yards and four sacks. He rushed for 26 yards.
Wilson’s completion percentage in 2022 is a perfect match for his completion percentage in 2021: 55.6%. And you get the sense that’s because he hasn’t taken a step forward this year. His development is completely arrested.
The only defense against Wilson’s critics is that he didn’t turn over the football. He didn’t technically lose the game for the Jets like he did a few weeks ago. And that’s progress, right?
Well, not exactly. Wilson just got luckier than in the Week 8 Patriots-Jets matchup, when he threw three interceptions. Wilson threw two turnover-worthy passes on Sunday, and New England simply dropped both of them. For most of the game, the quarterback failed to operate the offense — with late throws, overthrows and misreads. His receivers, Denzel Mims and Garrett Wilson, were frustrated with him on the sideline.
“We’re all close. We’re all talking and communicating,” Zach Wilson said after the loss. “There’s stuff that I want them to do different and I guess get frustrated as well. Then there’s stuff that I missed a throw high there and they’re frustrated as well. It goes both ways. This isn’t anyone pointing fingers here. This is everybody taking accountability here and everyone’s trying to get better.”
Speaking of taking accountability, did Wilson feel like he let the defense down at all?
“No,” he said postgame. “No.”
As the game progressed, it got to the point where Patriots outside linebacker Matthew Judon said the Jets stopped calling plays that required Wilson to throw downfield. Judon added that Wilson simply wasn’t seeing the field.
“Whenever you put pressure on a guy like that and get five sacks, he looks and instead of having his eyes up, kind of more down,” Judon said.
And the folks in coverage agreed.
“I think those dudes [in the pass rush] were in his face so much that it was really hard for him to go through his reads. And that’s really what we want,” Patriots cornerback Jalen Mills told FOX Sports.
The Patriots aren’t the only defense to take advantage of Wilson. It’s abundantly clear he’s holding back the offense, which — by the way — is supposed to be extremely quarterback-friendly. Look at what it has done for Tua Tagovailoa. Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel and Jets offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur run the same system.
To make matters worse, Wilson isn’t just doing the wrong things on the field. He’s also doing the wrong things off the field during press conferences with his failure to shoulder the blame.
It has become a problem in the locker room, with members of the Jets organization growing discontented with Wilson’s attitude, per SNY. Even cornerback Sauce Gardner liked a tweet with a video of Wilson’s errant throws. Gardner later said that he “didn’t mean to like this tweet.”
It’s all getting cringy.
So what do the Jets do next? They have quarterbacks Mike White, the backup, and veteran Joe Flacco, the QB3. It’s not like their bench options are brilliant. And because of what the Jets invested in Wilson in draft capital, New York might feel committed to sticking with him, even with all the problems flaring up. But if Wilson keeps playing like this and acting like this, the coaching staff might have an increasingly hard time motivating the locker room.
And then what?
Wilson is putting New York in an enormously difficult position. He’s not developing. He’s not winning. He’s not running the offense. And he’s not acting like a leader. There’s no doubt that young quarterbacks deserve more time to develop than they typically get in the NFL. But even with that in mind, you can’t help but wonder: Does Wilson deserve that time?
Prior to joining FOX Sports as the AFC East reporter, Henry McKenna spent seven years covering the Patriots for USA TODAY Sports Media Group and Boston Globe Media. Follow him on Twitter at @McKennAnalysis.
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