The 4-12 record won’t provide much excitement, but the New York Jets enter their final week of the 2021 season against the Buffalo Bills with plenty of cause for optimism.
Rookie quarterback Zach Wilson continues to progress in the right direction — most recently helping push the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers to the limit in a last-minute 28-24 loss.
Each of the Jets’ last two losses, which sandwiched a victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars, have come by seven points or fewer while Wilson’s evolution has been paired with the linking and revelation of wide receiver Braxton Berrios.
Over the last two games, the two have hooked up for nine receptions, 102 yards, and a touchdown through the air while Berrios added a kick-return touchdown against the Jaguars and a rushing touchdown — one of his two on the day — against Tampa Bay.
“He’s very, very smart. He can play every position,” Jets head coach Robert Saleh said Wednesday. “That trust and reliability aspect of his game is there. Because he’s so smart… usually if you have a guy doing all the little gadget stuff, they usually struggle to run routes. It’s a lot of information that’s happening with these guys and he’s able to do it all.
“He’s a grinder… He knows everybody’s detail, everybody’s job. Just having him out there, the fact that he can run normal routes and the gadget stuff… he’s definitely someone that the opposing defense have to pay attention to.”
That’s quite the kind of weapon to have for a young, developing quarterback in Wilson.
“It’s all about trust. The quarterback needs to know you’re going to be exactly where you’re supposed to be when you’re supposed to be there,” Saleh said. “When he doesn’t have to worry about you because you’re going to be exactly where you need to be… that trust factor, the timing, the rhythm, that’s so big.
“He’s been so consistent all season and he’s gotten nothing but better.”
Berrios was dealing with a quad contusion on Wednesday that forced him out of practice. The expectation is that he’ll still play on Sunday.
Further reinforcements could also be on the way for Wilson’s offense. Jamison Crowder is expected to play as is Elijah Moore, who practiced separately on Wednesday. Running back Michael Carter is also expected back to face the Bills, who have everything to play for in Week 18.
With a victory over the Jets, the Bills can clinch the AFC East title. It would be the first time they’ve won consecutive division titles since winning four straight from 1988-1991.
They’re going for a fourth-straight win over the Jets dating back to last season — and the matchup doesn’t bode well for Gang Green.
Behind quarterback Josh Allen, the Bills are currently averaging 28.5 points (third in the NFL) and 379.3 total yards (fifth) per game this season. Meanwhile, the Jets’ defense is allowing 29.8 points (last in the NFL) and 396 total yards (last in the NFL) per game.
Naturally, the Jets are three-possession underdogs in this game. However, if Wilson can continue building on a recent trend that has seen him post an 86.8 quarterback rating over his last three games, and the connection with Berrios continues to strengthen, then the Jets can move into the offseason feeling pretty good about themselves.