EAST RUTHERFORD — Zach Wilson stepped up to the podium drenched but with a different feeling surrounding him.
People weren’t looking to blame him for a poor mistake or another Jets loss. The air around the 24-year-old youngster was different. He had just put forth the type of game worthy of a former second-overall pick. A 75% completion percentage, 301 yards, and two touchdowns. More importantly to the fans and organization around him – a victory that was earned because of him and not the other way around.
Sunday’s 30-6 victory over the playoff-contending Houston Texans at a rainy MetLife Stadium did more than show the Jets exactly the type of potential he had, but that he actually belonged in the league – even if he didn’t make any more of it than it was.
“Winning is fun,” Wilson stated. “The flow of just playing football today was there and I can’t say it’s been like that a lot, unfortunately, in my career here. That’s what we’re searching for right there is just playing ball, just moving the football, just completing passes…I thought (it was) an unbelievable job by everybody.”
It was a performance that was a long time coming. Wilson has been benched in every year he’s been in the league since being chosen as New York’s football “savior” in 2021. While the BYU-product was expected to sit the entire 2023 season to learn behind one of the greats in league history, the injury gods forced him back on the field, and in front of a Jets fanbase that had seemingly had enough of him.
Battling adversity both on and off the field is never easy from a year-to-year basis. Trusting in oneself though has been a point of emphasis for the Jets coaching staff as they turned to Wilson again leading into Sunday’s contest.
How they explained that message though has changed over time.
“‘Let it rip’ is just trust yourself,” Jets head coach Robert Saleh said. “I thought he had great balance today. He was aggressive but he was smart. Taking the check downs when he could, being calculated with his opportunities. He was outstanding. Hopefully, he can find ways to build off this one.”
Wilson may have deflected praise from his career afternoon, but his teammates in the locker room were anything but quiet for their young quarterback after weeks of anonymous sources and fanbase diatribes.
“He balled,” Garrett Wilson said. “Zach went crazy today, like I said, he has got all the faith in us in the world. It is great to see him and just hoop.”
Even NFL veterans who have been surrounded by Hall-of-Fame quarterbacks their whole careers were excited to see Wilson show an inkling of his true potential.
“From what I’ve seen, this was definitely the best I’ve seen him play,” Randall Cobb explained to AMNY. “It’s his confidence to go out there and play his brand and ball. The pressure he’s faced over the last three years, and going out there and playing free, he played phenomenal tonight.”
The talent has never been the problem for the Jets starting quarterback. The blend of athleticism, arm talent, and knowledge made Wilson a top quarterback prospect in what was expected to be one of the best quarterback classes of the era.
Years have passed since that 2021 class has been drafted though and the expectations have certainly changed for almost every single signal-caller with Wilson. Still, the fact that a 24-year-old quarterback has finally shown an inkling of why he was the apple to the Jets’ organization’s eye is an important step in the maturation process of the position.
The hard part now will be building off a career performance like that in the final four games of the 2023 season.
“My focus is on the guys and how we can grow from this and how we can keep pushing and stack this win,” Wilson concluded. “We’ve got to use it for next week. We need to understand that this is the standard. But we’re going to enjoy this one.”
Things change on a weekly basis in the NFL, but for the first time in a long time, Wilson and the Jets offense can look back on this Sunday and smile.
For one week at least, they were the reason New York won, and was not a hindrance to anyone.