The Jets need to capitalize on their moment and accept their Zach Wilson mistake

The New York Jets have been one of the biggest surprises of the season. There was no doubt this team was building towards something special, but it was impossible to imagine the success would come this quickly. Now the Jets are hurtling towards their best season in seven years, proving themselves against a brutal schedule and astonishingly pushing the Bills atop the AFC East. The sky would be the limit, except it’s not — Zach Wilson is.

I’ve really been holding off discussing Wilson thus far in 2022 because, I’m not going to lie, I’ve been worried about confirmation bias for the last 18 months. Wilson wasn’t just one of my least favorite passers in the 2021 draft class, but one of my least favorite in the 14 years I’ve been evaluating quarterbacks. It got to the point where I felt like I was on an island, where everyone compared Wilson to Aaron Rodgers, while I saw Blaine Gabbert with worse field vision.

“Wilson always had days to throw downfield because of a clean pocket. Despite this he still had a tendency to move through his progressions too quickly and miss easy options. In the event he was pressured, Wilson was too quick to take off and run. His athleticism was enough against his competition to pick up big yards, but this could become a liability in the NFL.

I can’t shake this feeling that Wilson is going to be a bust. After watching film I’m not confident in him to be an elite quarterback in the NFL, and it concerns me to think he’ll be selected with that expectation on him.”

The biggest pro-Wilson argument last season was paper thin: “Josh Allen struggled in year one too.” This panacea was a catch-all for criticism, as if most failing quarterbacks don’t continue to struggle — rather than turnaround post-draft like Allen did, one of the most astonishing college-to-pro jumps in NFL history. Now, through four starts since returning from injury it’s become extremely clear the Jets are winning in spite of Zach Wilson, not because of him.

It’s difficult to blame the offense here either. Even if you think there’s work to do on the offensive line or rounding out the receiver corps, it doesn’t explain away why 37-year-old Joe Flacco was able to get so much more blood out of this stone than Wilson has.

  • Joe Flacco (three starts): 901 yards, 58.7% completion, 5 TD, 3 INT — 77.9 passer rating
  • Zach Wilson (four starts): 693 yards, 57.4% completion, 1 TD, 2 INT — 73.5 passer rating

It’s fair to point out that Flacco was asked to throw much more than Wilson — but isn’t that the point? Offensive coaches don’t trust Zach Wilson to effectively throw downfield and move the chains, nor should they.

We’re seeing a continuation of the trend Wilson established his rookie year. He typically has one good, field-stretching play a game, then nothing else but floundering mediocrity. 192 of Wilson’s passing yards this season have come on four receptions, over a quarter of his season total. His lone touchdown was thrown three yards downfield to Breece Hall who took it to the house. Finally, no starting quarterback has a more glaring accuracy disparity. Before yesterday’s game Pro Football Reference noted that Wilson has attempted downfield passes with 639 intended air yards, and gained 290 off these passes.

It’s not going to improve off this week either, because Wilson didn’t manage to complete a single pass more than 10 yards downfield, and half his completions fell at the line of scrimmage or behind it.

At this point I’ve invested over 600 words in explaining why Wilson is atrocious. I could write more, but it’s unnecessary. The results are so glaring they don’t require further bloviation — so let’s flip the script. The Jets are an absolutely phenomenal football team.

It was worth drooling over the 2022 draft class, because it looked incredible the day after, but now? It’s truly looking like New York landed three franchise cornerstones with their first four picks, and the jury is still out on pick No. 4 because of Jermaine Johnson II’s injury.

Sauce Gardner is every bit the phenom people hoped he’s be pre-draft. He’s a 6’3 Darrelle Revis, perfectly suited to the modern NFL. Garrett Wilson is a stud, who was on pace for over 1,200 yards receiving until Zach Wilson returned. Now he’s slated to finish with 762 yards, through no fault of his own. Breece Hall started to run away with offensive rookie of the year, prior to the ACL injury he sustained against the Broncos, which will likely end his season. Jermaine Johnson II looks like a steal as a rotational pass rusher — the list goes on.

The 2022 draft was so impactful for the Jets that it’s opened a huge window. Hall’s injury will greatly diminish the team’s offense for the second half of the season, which means it’ll be difficult for their 5-2 start to hold. It also means that New York could be diving into an extremely QB rich draft, with as many as 6-to-8 quarterbacks going in the first round, and have a pick in the high-to-mid teens. That is a dream.

Pulling off the Band-Aid won’t be easy. It will require Robert Salah and GM Joe Douglas to eat a huge slice of humble pie and admit they whiffed on Wilson, who was their signature pick to start a new era. As time has shown again, and again, and again: They cannot put their egos above the organization, and that means cutting bait with Wilson.

If the Jets had a good quarterback, not an elite passer, just a good one — we’d likely be discussing this team as a potential dark horse in the AFC. That’s how good this organization is, and how smothering its defense is. Instead we have to discuss the need to move on, because it’s clear this isn’t the answer to everyone who isn’t in too deep on Zach Wilson.

The Jets are winners now, they can be one of the NFL’s elite teams soon — they just need to make the right call.

Winner: Dak Prescott

There’s been so much criticism of Prescott’s return from injury, and damn I just do not understand it. A couple of weeks back I discussed how the Cowboys are one of the best-coached teams in the NFL, but that Cooper Rush had to be benched as soon as Dak was ready to return, because he just didn’t offer the same ways to win.

Not only did Prescott push the ball downfield effectively, he did what Dallas needed the most: He was boring as hell. It might not win any awards for prettiest quarterback play of the year, but this defense, paired with a ruthlessly efficient (and boring) offense is what will get the Cowboys far further this season than having Dak play hero ball.

Yes, it’s a win over the Lions who somehow keep tripping over their own feet, but dispatching teams like this is exactly what good teams in the NFC should do, and something the likes of the Buccaneers, Packers and Rams are struggling with.

I really vacillated on this one for a long time. On the one hand, the Panthers and supposed to be tanking, right?

On the other hand, this runs deeper. The more I think about this, the more important that win over the Bucs feels. See, GM Scott Fitterer basically told the league that anyone, and everyone is on the table. When you trade Christian McCaffrey that statement is clear. I’m really not buying the idea that the Panthers rejected two first round picks for Brian Burns, and that it was more gamesmanship to see if the Panthers can up the market on him.

After that game on Sunday, Burns and wide receiver D.J. Moore (also reportedly on the block) showed the front office why they should be untouchable if this team wants to compete in the next five years.

Moore caught seven passes and moved the chains at critical moments. Burns registered a sack and was in the backfield harassing Tom Brady all afternoon. Sure, the Bucs are much weaker than they’ve been in the past — but they’re still a much better team than the Panthers.

If this win took Carolina out of the C.J. Stroud sweepstakes at No. 1, then it’ll be something we can discuss closer to draft time. Right now I’m inclined to say that falling out of that top spot is absolutely worth it if it means the team keeps Burns and Moore through the deadline.

Loser: The Green Back Packers

Y’all lost to the Washington Commanders’ backup quarterback. Nothing more is required.

Can this team please put it together? Before this season I had Los Angeles as my AFC dark horse to make the Super Bowl if the Chiefs and Bills didn’t meet expectations. Now, well, they look like the same barely-playoff team they’ve been for the third straight year.

There is no doubt this team is playing well below its potential. Being at 4-3 isn’t a bad record, but losing to the Jaguars and Seahawks is unacceptable for a team with this much talent on both sides of the ball.

Brandon Staley is actively hurting this team, and now it’s looking like J.C. Jackson, the crown jewel of their active free agency, is done for the year. There are a lot of teams vying for a wild card spot in the AFC in 2022, and right now the Chargers are on the outside looking in.

No team with a winning record needs to do more soul searching right now than the Chargers. I really want them to put it together, because I don’t want Justin Herbert to land next to Philip Rivers in the “greatest QB to never win a ring” conversation.

Winner: The TikTok witches who predicted Tom Brady’s downfall

I don’t know how long a modern witch incantation takes to wear off, but I think it’s safe to say that Gisele’s protective wards are gone.

Brady has been had two of his worse weeks of the season, back-to-back against the struggling Steelers and hapless Panthers. With two losses in a row it’s unclear if the Buccaneers can get back their mojo, and at this point we have to assume they won’t — because Gisele’s witch powers are gone.

Spooky. Scary. It isn’t even Halloween yet.

Loser: The child who stepped to Freddie Falcon

Never mess with a predatory bird — even one in mascot form.

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