The subterranean arc of Zach Wilson’s career hit a new low in New York’s 10-3 loss to the New England Patriots. For 59 minutes and 30 seconds, the Jets’ defense surrendered only one field goal against the New England Patriots. However, punt returner Marcus Jones’ game-winning punt return in the waning seconds of Sunday’s meeting in New England ended one of the grittiest defensive slogs of the season. The win was the Patriots and Bill Belichik’s 14th straight against the Jets.
Belichick’s defense is probably the NFL’s best, led by the league’s sack leader Matthew Judon, and they have the No. 1 ranking in Football Outsiders’ defensive ratings to show for it. Nothing seems to give Belichick more glee though than frustrating an overmatched Jets quarterback.
While Mac Jones threw for an unspectacular 240 yards and 0 interceptions, Wilson’s 77 yards in three quarters triggered the latent doom that rests in the souls of every Jets fan. And that’s for good reason, as Wilson still operates like he was drafted second in the XFL Draft, as opposed to the NFL’s.
All the adoration for Wilson’s live arm or “off-platform throws” have dissipated and been replaced by exasperation. In Wilson’s postgame presser, he was asked if felt as though he’d let the defense down, and Wilson responded with a defiant, but tone-deaf, “No.” Special teams captain Justin Hardee showed more modesty than that. The defense noticed Wilson’s lack of self-awareness as well. Standout rookie corner Sauce Gardner and DE John Franklin-Myers both liked tweets criticizing Wilson’s absurd response and his lousy play. Their passive aggressive Twitter activity indicates Robert Saleh may have himself a divided locker room between offense and defense as long as Wilson is stinking it up under center. That said, both players have since stated the likes were accidents. Both players. Both likes. Right.
Wilson also blamed the crosswinds, saying “I think you have to take into account it’s windy as hell out there too, guys.” While the gusty wind complaints may have some validity to them, it doesn’t explain how he was so much worse than Mac Jones, who completed 23-of-27 passes.
Back here in reality, the Jets’ defense has been Wilson’s life jacket all season. He currently ranks 32nd in passer rating, 33rd in completion percentage, 31st in touchdown-interception ratio, and 31st in touchdowns per attempt. While under pressure he’s last in passer rating (11.5), completion percentage (26.7), and yards-per-attempt (3.27). He was given a pass for poor play throughout his rookie season as he adjusted to the NFL veeeery slowly, but he’s closer to Josh Rosen than Josh Allen at this juncture in his career.
Jets fans may be in for some inauspicious déjà vu if Wilson continues down this slope. The Jets have watched the New England Patriots steamroll the league for two decades with Tom Brady at the helm. Buffalo’s Josh Allen is airbending passes at an elite level and Miami is riding Tua Tagovailoa’s MVP-caliber peaks and valleys, but at his worst, he’s well above sea level. The inverted arc of Wilson’s career has been a bowl. Jets brass just has to hope he can reach the baseline to be considered a middle-of-the-road starter.
The dynamic in the AFC East resembles the post-1983 order when the Jets chose Ken O’Brien over Pitt’s Dan Marino, who shattered passing records for the Dolphins in his sophomore season en route to Canton. The Bills took Jim Kelly and advanced to four Super Bowls. A similar dynamic exists today between Tua, Allen, and Wilson. Mac Jones may be more Tony Eason than Tom Brady, but it’s all relative. Wilson is in the back of the pack in his division.
Compared to his experienced backup, Joe Flacco, Wilson is a dud. In only three starts this season, Flacco has one more touchdown pass than Wilson (Flacco 5, Wilson 4), who has started seven games. Justin Fields has tripled Wilson’s passing touchdown tallies with a fraction of the talent at receiver. However, unlike the Bears, the Jets defense performs like a Super Bowl-caliber unit. Two years into his NFL career, Wilson is struggling mightily and the Jets should not hesitate to take a young quarterback to compete with him, or, replace him with next season.
The Jets don’t have to stay chained to a quarterback who routinely places the offense in a nosedive while all indications are that with an above-average starter, they could compete now. Sauce Gardner and D.J. Reed constitute the NFL’s best cornerback duo in the league and the front seven is bringing pressure at one of the NFL’s highest rates. As a stacked draft class draws nearer, Wilson is likely running out of time to change the trajectory of his career. And the Jets appear to still be looking for that franchise QB.