MIAMI GARDENS, Fla – As a rookie, Zach Wilson experiences something new every week. It’s all part of his great year of learning, which is at the heart of the great and grand scheme of rebuilding the New York Jets.
On Sunday Wilson had his first chance to come out of halftime with a seven-point lead. He didn’t handle that very well, as the Jets lost their first halftime advantage of the season (not a printing error) in a possible 31-24 loss to the Miami Dolphins at the Hard Rock Stadium.
The lessons didn’t stop with the final cannon fire. After another patchy performance, Wilson was asked a pointed but fair question about the offense’s lack of production with him as a quarterback, compared to the other passer on the roster. You could almost see his jaw tighten. He didn’t seem to like the question at all.
“Yeah, I don’t care about any of that stuff,” he said dryly – a response that hung in the air for a second or two.
It wasn’t his best time. In a situation like this, a savvy quarterback is supposed to own the problem, promising to make it better. Wilson didn’t, making it look like it was touching a nerve.
It was another learning experience in a season full of them, which is the rosy sight of its first season. Here is the cold reality:
Week after week, Wilson shows he’s not ready to be an NFL starting quarterback. That’s a bit worrying, considering he was the No.2 pick in the draft, but that doesn’t necessarily mean this season – sacrificed for his development – is a waste. We won’t know until next year, when we find out if the Jets’ pain and suffering was worth it.
If this was a winning season for the Jets (3-11), man, did they screw up starting Wilson from week 1. You knew there would be trouble, given that he’s played a flexible schedule at BYU, but he’s still got to put together four consistent quarterbacks in a row. And he played 38 in total.
“That’s not all about Zach,” said coach Robert Saleh of the offensive difficulties. “It’s on all of us.”
Saleh was protecting his young quarterback. The evidence is irrefutable. Since returning from his knee injury, Wilson has led the offense to just 16 points and 258 yards per game. In its four-game absence, with Joe Flacco, Mike White and Josh Johnson at quarterback, the offense averaged 24.5 points and 436 yards.
Wilson (13-23, 170 yards) was effective early on against the Dolphins, leading the Jets to a 17-10 halftime lead on a string of dinks and dunks. Offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur has done a good job keeping it simple with Wilson and protecting his vulnerable offensive line – minus left tackle George Fant (knee) – calling short passes and a handful of gimmicky plays.
In fact, Wilson’s best play was out of the script, a schoolyard scramble that resulted in a 23-yard gain for tight end Ryan Griffin. Dodging the passer, Wilson circled 50 yards behind the line of scrimmage, according to NFL Next Gen Stats, before finding a wide open Griffin. The pass only traveled 6 yards in the air, his longest attempt in the first half, but it was a great play nonetheless.
It was fun, @ZachWilson.#NYJvsMIA on CBS pic.twitter.com/3ySHqS19ue
– New York Jets (@nyjets) December 19, 2021
“I felt like this was probably the biggest game for me when it comes to simple free play,” Wilson said, meaning he wanted to let his game-making instincts take over. when needed.
Once again Wilson has proven himself at his best by improvising, trying to pull something out of a bad play. Everything changed in the second half. The Dolphins, who started in the zone, played more man-to-man in the second half. They also put more pressure.
The result was six sacks (including a lost fumble) and a lot of indecision from Wilson, who seemed overwhelmed at times. There were signs of happy feet when her first reading was covered. He hasn’t played well from the pocket, a problem throughout the season.
“Once you have a men’s blanket, it kind of goes away, doesn’t it?” Wilson said, alluding to easy completions. “You have to let the guys try to win, and give them time to win on the roads, so that’s going to push me to hang on to some. They’re probably going to give up some (pieces) in the field and unfortunately we don’t. haven’t capitalized on any of these.
“For the most part you have to earn it when these guys step up like that. I was trying to be my best, just sitting in the pocket and trusting the protection and just trying to give these guys a shot on the ground. “
Wilson described it better than he played it. He fought. Again. In 10 starts, he only has six touchdown passes. The company’s line was that he would benefit from those four weeks on the sidelines, which he would learn by watching. It hasn’t happened yet.
You watch an overwhelmed recruit endure growing pains. The Jets are ready to live with them because they see better days ahead. They better not be wrong.