Alright look, I’m not going to say that New York Jets quarterback Zach Wilson was necessarily good on Sunday.
In fact, he had a pretty awful game, throwing four interceptions in the team’s 25-6 loss to the New England Patriots. Most of those throws were absolutely his fault. Jets fans like myself have seen games like this plenty of times before from guys Sam Darnold, Luke Falk, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Bryce Petty, Geno Smith and Mark Sanchez, to name a few from recent memory. For a team that’s been rebuilding since Sanchez infamously butt-fumbled on Thanksgiving 2012, it’s looking like the same old Jets all over again.
Despite this slow start from New York’s No. 2 overall pick, there are plenty of reasons to explain the rough play from Wilson, as well as a number of reasons to still be excited about the future.
Belichick Owns Rookie QBs and the Jets
Since 2000, Bill Belichick has dominated most rookie quarterbacks, going 22-6 against them, including a perfect 13-0 at home. In the Jets’ last 11 matchups with the New England Patriots, they are 0-11, having last won in December 2015. In the last 22, they are 2-20.
While the Jets have had some very bad teams during this span, even at their best, Belichick seems to just have their number, putting massive pressure on the QB and forcing them to make horrendous mistakes. Some of the worst losses resulted in the Butt Fumble and Sam Darnold claiming he was seeing ghosts on national television. While not unfathomable for Wilson to lead the Jets to a W on Sunday, it was highly unlikely to begin with.
Rookie Growing Pains
Look, every rookie has had a rough stretch to begin the year, especially when they’re under the same circumstances as Wilson. This kid is on a Jets team that signed virtually no backup options, with no veteran guys that can mentor him along the way. He’s gotten QB1 reps since the second he got to the Meadowlands. Combine that with an antsy New York media constantly expecting progress from him, and that’s a boatload of pressure. He’s going to figure it out, but it’s not going to happen overnight.
Look at the other rookie quarterbacks around the league this week. While no performance was necessarily as bad as Wilson’s, No. 1 pick Trevor Lawrence struggled with the Jacksonville Jaguars, as did Justin Fields with the Chicago Bears. Mac Jones got the win for the Patriots, but didn’t play “out of his mind” and was reaping the benefits of great field position all game long. None of these guys are at their potential just yet.
Offensive Weapons Shined
One really bright spot on the Jets’ team was the success of the other two major offensive draft picks GM Joe Douglas invested in this spring. Wide receiver Elijah Moore, who had already been hyped up as a budding superstar based on his training camp performance, was running some great routes and was a part of most of the good throws Wilson had. Running back Michael Carter was stellar as well, out-contributing Ty Johnson and Tevin Coleman in this running back-by-committee. With increasing talent around him, Wilson is no doubt set up in a better position to succeed.
Offensive Line Bounces Back
After a horrendous first game from the offensive line, it seemed as though Wilson was going to struggle with “seeing ghosts” all year long. A critical injury from former first round left tackle Mehki Becton last week only added to the concerns.
The truth is that while these guys on the front line are Douglas’ players, they haven’t had any snaps with all five of them together until Week 1. That kind of chemistry that a team needs doesn’t appear out of thin air. The front five did a much better job on Sunday, with four of the five linemen scoring a 68.5 PFF grade or higher. Look for them to increase those ratings a little more in the coming weeks, and even more when Becton returns in 4-8 weeks. While they won’t be a dominant unit like the Browns or the Colts, they should be at least formidable in giving protection to Wilson the rest of the season. I can safely say that this group of five is easily better than anything Sam Darnold ever had.
This one might be a little out there, but seeing a former “bust” in Darnold tear it up in Carolina this past week actually made me hopeful for the Jets’ future. After three full years of thinking the organization squandered a top prospect’s potential, Darnold is thriving in a new location, surrounded by better talent.
New York is still trying to climb out of its mile deep hole left by former GM Mike Maccagnan and former head coaches Todd Bowles and Adam Gase. The fact that a quarterback that was in the same situation as Wilson hasn’t had his career ruined by the Jets organization is a great sign that Wilson will be able to turn it around at some point.
And look, none of this is me saying he’s going to be Patrick Mahomes. As much as the New York media and fans want him to be, staying realistic is important. He could very easily end up a bust, but nothing in his play up to this point is alarming considering the circumstances. There’s a reason he was drafted second overall, and we should see his talent in full force soon enough.