Jets teammates are noticing a different Zach Wilson off the field, too

The narrative surrounding the Jets’ 2022 season was rather simple: If they merely had competent quarterback play, they’d have qualified for the playoffs instead of finishing 7-10, losing seven of their final eight games, including their final six. Considering the fact that the defense ranked fourth in the NFL, the offense let the defense down. Big time.

And Zach Wilson played the lead role in that narrative. Expected to make a jump in his second NFL season, Wilson’s 2022 was a mess. He played poorly at times.

He got hurt. He got benched twice. His teammates wore T-shirts celebrating his backup, Mike White.

And then there was his lack-of-accountability moment after a putrid performance in a loss to the Patriots. It was the low point of his career and possibly a moment that made him grow up the most as he later stood in front of his teammates and apologized for his callous remarks. “He could have been out of the league by now,’’ Jets linebacker and captain C.

J. Mosley said. “There was so much stuff that could have happened, but he’s here right now, leading our team.

’’ Make no mistake: Since he was thrust back into the starting role with Aaron Rodgers rupturing his left Achilles tendon in the season opener, Wilson hasn’t morphed into Patrick Mahomes, Jalen Hurts or Rodgers. But Wilson has accomplished something that was missing last season and has been quietly critical to the team winning its past two games and getting to 3-3 entering Sunday’s game against the Giants: He hasn’t been a reason for the Jets to lose games. The numbers don’t jump off the stat page, but Wilson has shown improvement — both on the field, where he’s making quicker decisions with the ball and fewer killer mistakes, and inside the locker room, where he’s surer of himself and the respect his teammates have for him.

Both of those elements were missing a year ago. “It’s his confidence,’’ Mosley said. “You have to learn from you mistakes and learn from the good and the bad.

Being a quarterback is hard enough. Being a quarterback for the New York Jets might add a little more to it. He came into a really tough situation with a lot of expectations.

I feel like he’s been doing a really good job handling it. ’’ Wilson’s completion percentage (60. 4 percent) is up from his first two seasons.

He’s thrown just four TDs to five INTs, though, and the TD number needs to rise if the Jets are going to become a serious contender to make the playoffs. That goes particularly in the red zone, where the Jets are ranked last in the league in TD scoring percentage at 29. 4 percent.

The Jets also rank last in the NFL in third-down conversion rate at 25 percent. The question going forward is whether Jets head coach Robert Saleh and offensive coordinator Nate Hackett need to loosen the reins and let Wilson sling the ball around a little bit more. It appears the coaches are trusting him a little bit more with each game.

“That trust level started with that Kansas City game,” Saleh said. “From a game-planning standpoint, it’s been an open book with him starting with the Kansas City game where it was, ‘All right, let’s see what he’s got. ’ And now he’s proven it week in and week out and he’s doing a really nice job.

” Wilson played one of the best games of his career against the Chiefs last month, albeit in a 23-20 loss, completing 28 of 39 for 245 yards with two TDs and no turnovers. Including the Kansas City game and wins over the Broncos and Eagles in the past two games, Wilson’s completion percentage is 69. 4 (68 of 98) and he’s thrown two TDs and only one INT.

Trust from the coaching staff builds with better performances like those. “We’re not trying to hide Zach at all; we’re letting him play football and the play designs and the game plan is one that is for a quarterback we trust,” Saleh insisted. “He’s always been confident knowing he has the ability; he’s just gotten better,’’ running back Breece Hall said.

A lot has gone wrong for Wilson since he was drafted second overall in 2021. Some of it has been from the high expectations based on where he was drafted. Some of it has been how utterly starved Jets fans have been for a proper franchise quarterback to lead the team.

Much of it, too, has been on Wilson. “When the whole world is coming down on you, you’re naturally going to defend yourself,” Saleh said, trying to defend his quarterback. “I think he knows he can play this game and he’s got inner confidence with himself first.

I think he feels that this organization is behind him. I think he feels that the locker room is behind him. I think he feels that the coaching staff is behind him.

He still has a long way to go. ’’ The next step on that journey begins with the Giants game Sunday at MetLife, where the Wilson and Jets have a chance to take a giant step toward a first playoff berth in 13 years. .

Mark Cannizzaro 10/25/2023
·
Filed 10.26.2023

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