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Jets win over Jaguars about Zach Wilson’s progress, not draft position

Zach Wilson Jets
Dec 26, 2021; East Rutherford, New Jersey, USA; New York Jets quarterback Zach Wilson (2) rushes for a touchdown during the first quarter against the Jacksonville Jaguars at MetLife Stadium.
Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

For the sixth time in their last 31 games, the New York Jets won a football game. 

Another source of joy for Gang Green supporters during the holiday season even if it provides an all-too-familiar conundrum that will see writers and analysts trying to tell you how to feel about it. 

The Jets are now 4-11 on the 2021 season after their narrow 26-21 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars who were just a yard away from winning the game in the final 20 seconds before bad teams do what bad teams do: find ways to lose. 

That’s an odd sentence to write about the Jets’ opponents rather than the Jets themselves, but the Jaguars sunk to 2-13 on the season and are in the driver’s seat to come away with the No. 1 pick of the 2022 NFL Draft.

With the Detroit Lions at 2-12-1, the Jets’ win all but takes them out of the running for a top-two selection at the draft, which will get some fans in their feelings considering just how much more the roster needs to improve before becoming legitimate postseason contenders. 

They have every right to feel that way, but Sunday afternoon at MetLife Stadium provided further indication that Zach Wilson not only is making progress under center for the Jets but that he can be a long-term option at the quarterback position for a team that hasn’t had that in decades. 

The No. 2 pick of the 2021 draft outdueled Jaguars passer Trevor Lawrence, who was taken one pick ahead of the Jets’ quarterback and threw for 280 yards in the loss. 

That was significantly more than Wilson’s 102 passing yards on Sunday, but his 63.6% completion percentage (14-of-22 attempts) was a season-high for the rookie while his quarterback rating of 89.6 was second only to his 297-yard outing in a Week 4 upset of the Tennessee Titans. Sunday was the third straight game in which Wilson didn’t throw an interception — a promising development considering he threw picks in seven of his first eight career games.

What might have been even better to see for head coach Robert Saleh, who was watching from home as he dealt with COVID, was Wilson continued to simply take what the defense was giving him. That meant making the high-efficiency throws that weren’t going to be game-breaking plays while picking the right times to get the job done with his legs, which was evident when he dashed 52 yards for the longest touchdown run by a quarterback in franchise history.

“I’m not surprised,” acting head coach Ron Middleton said. “I’m glad it showed up today. I know [offensive coordinator Mike LaFluer] challenged him on some of his efforts the last couple weeks for sure… I think he played free, I think he played with confidence, and he showed his ability.” 

It was the highlight of a day that featured 91 rushing yards on just three carries — a Jets franchise record for most yards on the ground by a quarterback in a game.

“Wow,” Wilson said. “I don’t know if that’s a good thing for me or a bad thing for everybody else. It worked out. I wasn’t planning on running, it just kind of happened. I felt like I needed to take advantage of what the defense was giving me.”

Sure, the Jets might be holding the No. 4 pick of the draft instead of the first or second. But a building block like this for a perceived franchise quarterback — even if it is against a bad team — is going to go a long way in the long run.

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