Heading into the game on Sunday against their longtime nemesis, the New England Patriots, the Jets were riding a four-game winning streak, and looked to establish themselves as a legitimate playoff contender.
It wasn’t to be.
Zach Wilson needed to step up in the absence of now-injured running back Breece Hall, but he failed to meet the moment, and looked severely outmatched by the Bill Belichick-led Patriots defense.
In his second year, Jets fans were hoping that the BYU-product could take a leap this season, and become the long term answer at the quarterback position that the Jets have lacked for several seasons.
They’ve been winning, which has given some hope to the Jets faithful. Yet, you’d be hard pressed to believe that they’ve been victorious because of Wilson — rather than in spite of him.
Since he took the field in Week 4, after rehabbing a torn meniscus and bone bruise suffered in preseason, Wilson has recorded a 54.93% completion rate, while tossing 209.6 yards per game. He has just three passing touchdowns, and five interceptions.
Three of those picks came during Sunday’s loss.
He’s also taken some careless sacks, totaling 10 on the year for a loss of 73 yards. Despite his athleticism, he hasn’t done much on the ground, as he’s seen just 44 rushing yards across his five starts.
The team has relied on their better-than-expected defense, along with Hall’s running prowess (which is now gone), while masking some of Wilson’s inefficiencies.
But, taking on their divisional rival in a game that could have established them as a true force in the AFC, Wilson came up short.
“I need to play better,” the quarterback said.
“We’ve got to do better with the ball,” said head coach Robert Saleh. “This is a team that feasts on your mistakes and if you’re just off by a hair, you’re going to pay for it. So, just collectively, all of us, we’ve got to be better with the ball.”
To be fair, Wilson did total over 300 yards for the first time in his professional career, but he did so while completing less than half of his passes. He went 20 of 41 for 355 yards.
“We have faith in Z,” Saleh insisted. “He’s played good football. He has taken care of the football since he’s gotten back. He has shown flashes of good football, so everyone in the locker room still has his back.”
But for how much longer?
The game, which the Jets were competitive in during the first half, swung wide open when Wilson was intercepted by Devin McCourty on consecutive drives.
“I just had two bone-headed plays,” Wilson said. “The second interception (the first by McCourty), I really meant to throw that ball away. … And then the last one, I really just wanted to make a play instead of coming off the field and I can’t do that.
“I put my defense in a bad situation there.”
It was Wilson’s first start in a loss this season. He rallied New York to a comeback win at Pittsburgh in his season debut, but his play was far from spectacular in the three wins that followed.
Wilson was operating more like a game manager than a game changer who can carry an offense. That was by design, in large part, while New York went up against some tough defenses with Miami, Green Bay and Denver.
New England was another rough opponent for a young quarterback. And Wilson and the Jets were done in by his inability to prevent mistakes.
“We just have to rally around him,” Saleh said. “Coaches, we need to find a way to make it not necessarily simpler, but just help him continue to progress and evolve. He is still a young man. Playing quarterback in this league is not easy. Collectively, we have to do better for him.”
For more coverage of Zach Wilson and the Jets, head to amNY.com.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.