Jets quarterback Zach Wilson returned to action for the first time this season, and led Gang Green to a victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday afternoon.
Rookie running back Breece Hall ran for a 2-yard touchdown with 16 seconds remaining and Wilson, along with his New York teammates, spoiled Kenny Pickett’s debut in Pittsburgh by rallying for a 24-20 victory, while giving New York their second win of the season.
The Jets, who advance to 2–2 on the season, won in Pittsburgh for just the second time in franchise history after Wilson, making his sophomore season debut, led them down the field late after the second of Pickett’s three interceptions gave New York the ball back with 3:42 to go.
Wilson took the Jets 65 yards in 10 plays — with the final two coming as Hall churned his way across the goal line. The play was initially ruled a fumble at the 1 yard line, but the referees overturned the call on review.
Wilson finished 18 of 36 for 252 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions in his first game since injuring his right knee in the preseason opener.
He also became the first quarterback in Jets history to catch a touchdown, when he hauled in a 2-yard pass from Braxton Berrios in the second quarter — marking New York’s version of the “Philly Special” run by the Eagles in the Super Bowl.
The catch gave New York a 10-point lead. The Jets were up 10-6 at the half, and the Steelers made a move that was inevitable at some point, inserting Pickett in place of the struggling Mitch Trubisky.
— New York Jets (@nyjets) October 2, 2022
Pickett, the 20th overall pick in the draft who dutifully sat behind Trubisky as the Steelers endured a bumpy opening month, walked onto the same field where he starred collegiately at the University of Pittsburgh to a massive ovation while Trubisky — who went 7 of 13 for 84 yards with an interception in the first half — stood on the sideline in a baseball cap.
Pickett provided an immediate spark, becoming the first quarterback in NFL history to run for a pair of touchdowns in his debut, the second a 2-yard scramble that gave the Steelers (1-3) a 20-10 lead with 13:41 remaining.
Wilson responded with a 5-yard touchdown pass to Corey Davis that drew the Jets within 20-17 with 7:35 to go.
Pickett drove the Steelers into New York territory, but his sideline throw to tight end Pat Freiermuth was high and late. The 6-foot-5 Freiermuth leapt in an effort to catch the ball, only to see it smack off his hands and into the awaiting arms of a diving Michael Carter II that set up the winning drive.
Pickett finished 10 of 13 for 120 yards and three interceptions, the final one a Hail Mary to the end zone on the final snap that was picked off by Lamarcus Joyner, sending the Jets spilling onto the field.
“To get 4 takeaways in an NFL game is pretty significant. We were all over the QB the entire day. I felt overall the defense played a really good game of football,” said head coach Robert Saleh.
The Steelers, now 0-7 all-time without injured star outside linebacker T.J. Watt, head into the most difficult part of their schedule riding a three-game losing streak and with the franchise now in the hands of a rookie who hardly looked cowed by the stage but will likely endure some very public growing pains as he learns on the job.
Wilson, who is considered the quarterback of the future at MetLife Stadium, was selected by the Jets with the 2nd overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.
At just 23-years-old, Wilson finished last season with a 55.6% completion rate, and 2,334 yards in 13 games, with 9 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.
His play improved as the season progressed, which gave a glimmer of hope to the Gang Green front office and fans, as the signal caller tossed 5 touchdowns to just 1 interception in the last 6 games of his rookie season.
“There’s a couple of plays I’m sure Zach Wilson wishes he could have back, but the young man doesn’t flinch. He got us out of a lot of bad situations with his mobility,” said Saleh, referring of Wilson’s comeback performance. “I thought he played a pretty good game for his 1st game back.”
Right Tackle Max Mitchell exited with a knee injury late in the first half and did not return, marking the latest injury to the Jets’ decimated offensive line — coming after starting left tackle Mekhi Becton suffered an injury to his right knee cap during training camp to go down for the season, and his replacement, veteran Pro-Bowler Duane Brown, sustained a shoulder injury just before Week 1 and went onto the injured reserve list. George Fant, the third option for the Jets to protect the quarterback’s blind spot, then suffered a knee injury, and joined Brown on the IR.
The continuously piling-up injuries for Gang Green is a troubling sign, as Wilson will need all the help he can get, and the running game looks to find their own spark.
New York has not rushed for over 100 yards this season, despite investing in Hall as the first running back taken in the 2022 NFL Draft.
The offensive line is sure to be a key to the Jets future success, should they look to sustain their recent winning acumen.
Up next for the Jets
The Jets, led by Wilson, will return home to host AFC East rival Miami Dolphins next Sunday. The Dolphins have dominated the series of late, taking eight of the last nine meetings.
However, Miami is dealing with an injury to their quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, who suffered a concussion and was sent to the hospital during their Week 4 matchup.
That has raised questions directed towards the NFL and NFL Players Association, as Tagovailoa had appeared to hurt his head in Week 3, before returning to the matchup against the Bills.
The Players Association, after the series of injuries to the young signal caller, fired the independent neurological expert who helped clear Tagovailoa to return to a game.
It is not clear if Tagovailoa will be cleared to play in Week 5 against Gang Green.
Journey-man Teddy Bridgewater will take the starting role for the Dolphins if Tagovailoa is unable to take the field.
Will Graves of the Associated Press contributed to this report.