Zach Wilson bright spots can’t hide he’s not Jets’ franchise QB
Under the Thursday night lights at MetLife Stadium, Jets fans will get an up close and personal look at what a young, developing franchise quarterback looks like. Unfortunately Trevor Lawrence will be throwing passes for the visiting Jaguars.
Zach Wilson? He’ll likely be starting once again for the home team, unless the Jets and/or Mike White can find a medical professional who thinks it’s a good idea to expose the man’s battered rib cage to the naked brutality of the game.
Maybe Wilson will light it up against Jacksonville and start a sudden run of prosperity that extends into next season and beyond. Maybe the No. 2 overall pick in the 2021 draft will begin his rise to stardom by outplaying the No. 1 overall pick in the 2021 draft — Hey, Wilson did beat Lawrence last year with his legs — and ultimately enjoy the last laugh at the expense of the haters on the verge of dismissing him as a bust.
Funny things happen in pro football, and Wilson overcoming his struggles and honoring his advertised potential certainly would be a hoot.
But the evidence keeps cutting against the grain of that possibility. Lawrence, for example, completely looks the part of an NFL franchise player, and not just because at 6-foot-6, he’s 4 inches taller than Wilson. On Sunday, Lawrence threw for four touchdowns and 318 yards as the Jaguars upset the Cowboys, 40-34, in overtime.
In his last three victories — over Dallas, Tennessee, and Baltimore — Lawrence has thrown for 1,007 yards, 10 touchdowns and one interception. He has shown massive improvement from last year and he has made 31 out of a possible 31 starts.
Wilson has shown virtually no improvement from his rookie season and has missed 11 career starts because of injury and substandard performance.
This is not meant to rain all over Wilson’s return to the field Sunday after three weeks of watching White play his position at a higher level. In flashes during a crushing 20-17 loss to the Lions, Wilson showed everyone what Jets general manager Joe Douglas saw when he decided the BYU quarterback could be the one who finally carried the franchise to its first championship since January 1969.
He rolled to his left in the second quarter and fired deep to his right — a tribute to his famous Pro Day heave that turned the sport of offseason talent hunting on its ear — to find C.J. Uzomah for a 40-yard score. He rolled to his right in the game’s final seconds, showed special athleticism to escape the rush, and threw to his left to find Elijah Moore for the 20 yards needed for a last-second crack at overtime.
Alas, Greg Zuerlein missed the 58 yarder that could have dramatically altered the day’s narrative for Wilson and every teammate hellbent on making the Jets’ first playoff appearance since 2010. “Obviously,” said cornerback D.J. Reed, “everybody is devastated.”
Wilson surely felt it more than most. Had Zuerlein nailed the field-goal attempt, the quarterback could’ve played the hero in overtime. Heck, had the Jets’ esteemed defense made a fourth-and-1 stop after the two-minute warning rather than surrender a 51-yard touchdown catch-and-run to an undrafted tight end, Wilson’s second scoring pass a few minutes earlier would’ve gone into the books as the winner.
“I got to be better, man,” Wilson conceded afterward.
He misfired on too many relatively easy passes and lobbed up a brutal interception in a brutal third quarter, handing Detroit a field goal.
“And you see how those three points come back to bite us at the end,” Wilson said.
The fans booed him at times, and Garrett Wilson again showed his frustration when Zach Wilson missed him over the middle. But the young receiver and young quarterback did embrace later on the sideline.
“That boy battled,” Garrett Wilson said. “And any time you come into a game and see the speed of the game and you’re getting man coverage and you hadn’t been in that position in three weeks, it’s going to be tough on you. And I thought he handled it really well, man. He showed a lot of perseverance, especially at the end of the game, making some of the throws he did and standing in there, and gave us a chance to win the game. And that’s all you can ask for.”
Jets head coach Robert Saleh didn’t commit to Wilson for the Jacksonville game, and didn’t sound thrilled with the overall performance, saying that Wilson “played well” but suggesting he still needed technique tweaks after all that fundamental work. Truth is Saleh could’ve helped Wilson with his time management on that final drive, and the running backs and line could’ve helped him with something better than 50 yards on 22 carries.
More than anything, Wilson needs to help himself.
“I got a lot of plays I want back,” he said, “and so until I can correct those and make the easy ones, I’ve got to keep learning and just try to improve.”
Maybe Zach Wilson will improve enough to become a burgeoning franchise player the likes of Thursday night’s opponent, Trevor Lawrence. But right now the odds are stacked against it.
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