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J. Battista: Zach Wilson's meltdown vs. Patriots raises questions about long-term future as Jets' franchise QB


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Zach Wilson's meltdown vs. Patriots raises questions about long-term future as Jets' franchise QB

Published: Oct 30, 2022 at 07:43PM Updated: Oct 30, 2022 at 08:15 PM

Judy Battista - NFL.COM

Senior National Columnist

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The New England Patriots came into Sunday's game with a quarterback problem. The New York Jets exited with one.

With a chance to break the stranglehold the Patriots have over this rivalry, Jets quarterback Zach Wilson -- the quarterback who was not involved in a quarterback controversy entering the game -- choked it away with a three-interception performance that sent the Jets skidding to a 22-17 loss and raised questions about his long-term future as the team's franchise quarterback.

This is not the same old Jets, despite losing the 13th consecutive game to the Patriots, a streak dating back to 2016. It's not even the same Jets from last year -- that team got blown out by the Patriots in a game that players and coaches talked openly last week about hoping to avenge. These Jets have a defense that largely stifled the Patriots, limiting them to five field goals and a lone touchdown. And until rookie running back Breece Hall and offensive lineman Alijah Vera-Tucker suffered season-ending injuries last week, this was a team that could run the ball so effectively, it could shield Wilson's game from further scrutiny. The Jets were winning in spite of Wilson, not because of him, but they were winning nonetheless, so the single touchdown pass Wilson threw during the four-game winning streak since his return from injury could be looked at as an inconsequential blip, explained away by the Jets as Wilson doing what he was asked.

But with Hall out and newly acquired James Robinson not yet fully up to speed, the Jets ran the ball just 15 times for 51 yards, and that exposed an alarming reality: Wilson is struggling, susceptible to the kind of poor decision making you might expect of a rookie -- two of the interceptions were bad decisions -- and still incapable of the kind of consistent play that is required when a game is placed in his hands, as this game was with 41 pass attempts. It shouldn't be again for a while.

"He's got to play better," said coach Robert Saleh. "We've got to find ways to help him."

For starters, the Jets have to get back to what made them 5-3 and in second place in the AFC East. They have to figure out how to run the ball, to get their rushers the ball in space. And they have to do it quickly, because the Jets are still a viable playoff contender. But with a game against the Buffalo Bills next week, and a rematch with the Patriots after the Week 10 bye, the Jets can't afford to let Wilson's growing pains -- if that is still what this is, which Saleh seemed to suggest -- undermine the season.
 

Asked how the Jets can balance waiting for Wilson to grow with the urgency of the possibilities of this season, Saleh paused for a few moments before answering.

"We've just got to rally around him," Saleh said. "As coaches, we've got to figure out how to make it not necessarily simpler, but help him continue to progress and evolve. He's still a young man. Playing quarterback in this league is not easy. Collectively, we've got to do better for him. Obviously, he's got to be able to do what he did the last four weeks in terms of doing the simple stuff and not putting too much pressure on yourself to do more than you need to."

At the start of the summer, Saleh and Jets players talked about how Wilson was taking more of a leadership role, about how he was more vocal in the huddle. But then he was hurt,and he missed the start of the season. His play since his return has been mostly mixed. In his first game back, he led two touchdown drives in the fourth quarter to help the Jets to a come-from-behind victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers. The hope was that the sophomore leap the Jets anticipated had come to fruition. In the three weeks prior to Sunday, Wilson wasn't the problem, but he also wasn't the solution. He threw no interceptions in the previous three games, but also did not throw a touchdown pass. But Sunday's meltdown -- which included one interception when Wilson was trying to throw the ball away, and another when he was pressing to try to make a play -- came in the biggest game of the Jets' season so far, against a hated rival, with a chance to make a leap not just in the standings, but in the psychological warfare with the Patriots.

Wilson admitted Sunday that it is frustrating for him to get flushed from the pocket -- where he also made some of his best passes of the day -- and to constantly have to throw it away. It gets old, he said, to not see anything open in those situations. But he said this type of game would not hurt the team's confidence and, at times, he seemed nearly defiant. He was asked about his trajectory and the second-year leap and he responded that he didn't care about stats.

"Regardless of what it looks like, I feel like each game I'm learning and getting better," Wilson said. "There's always plays I'm going to want back. Always things that happen and you wonder, 'why did I just do that?' It's part of football."

It is. But it is a part that the Jets cannot afford right now. There were certainly other things that contributed to this loss, most glaringly a roughing the passer penalty on defensive lineman John Franklin-Myers that negated an 84-yard interception return for a touchdown on what was a terrible throw by Mac Jones. Saleh guessed that overall the penalty led to a 10-point swing, maybe 17 points. The pass protection for Wilson was shaky and he faced relentless pressure, especially in the second half.

But Wilson was the second overall pick last year because the Jets believed he was talented enough to handle adversity and elevate the Jets past it, to be the solution to the problems. Instead, Wilson was the problem, and it is one that there might not be an easy answer for. The Jets have time before they have to decide if Wilson is the long-term solution at quarterback and, ironically, the Patriots might still have to make that decision about Jones, too.

More pressing for the Jets is whether Wilson is still the solution right now, with the season on the line and a playoff berth entirely within reach.

"He can't lose his confidence," Saleh said. "We've got to figure out a way to help him. At the same time, there's self-inflicted wounds. It wasn't anything they did. Football is hard enough. It's when you make mistakes that are self-inflicted that makes it impossible. He's going to figure it out."

These are not the same old Jets. To avoid the same old results, he must.

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57 minutes ago, hawk said:

Saleh's mantra seems to be changing.  

It will be a true test to see how JD handles Wilson.  Does he recognize he isn't the answer, give him so more time, or will he be the typical stubborn Jets GM who rides and dies with him.  

I think Wilson is a smart player.  I think he has all the talent in the world.  On paper.  It just isn't translating in application.

He definitely has the skill set to be a great NFL QB. That is why he got drafted so high and why he will stick in the league for a while. The Jets need to fine tune their roster next year, but it appears a window is opening for them finally. They need to move on from Zach in the off-season and bring in a capable veteran QB to steer the ship. 
 

The best thing for Zach’s career is to go somewhere and be a backup for a couple of years and get ready for his next shot. If the game ever slowed down for him I think he could be good. 

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1 hour ago, Mario said:

He definitely has the skill set to be a great NFL QB. That is why he got drafted so high and why he will stick in the league for a while. The Jets need to fine tune their roster next year, but it appears a window is opening for them finally. They need to move on from Zach in the off-season and bring in a capable veteran QB to steer the ship. 
 

The best thing for Zach’s career is to go somewhere and be a backup for a couple of years and get ready for his next shot. If the game ever slowed down for him I think he could be good. 

A vet? Have you not seen the QB play around the league? 
 

Bring in a vet and draft a young buck is the ideal move IMO

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10 minutes ago, JiFapono said:

I'm telling you, you could see it in that moment, Saleh was flat footed because he didnt have an answer.  He knows, without a shadow of a doubt, Zach is holding his team back.  100%, it was written all over his face.

check the question, the pause and the face he makes, they know it in the building, 6;45 the question is asked. 

 

 

Connor is always fishing for a damn quote, I wasn’t surprised he was the one to ask that question BUT I’m happy he asked that and it was a great question 🤷‍♂️

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4 minutes ago, oatmeal said:

Connor is always fishing for a damn quote, I wasn’t surprised he was the one to ask that question BUT I’m happy he asked that and it was a great question 🤷‍♂️

Connor is a drama queen, he doesnt know anything about Football, so I actually appreciate him sticking to the drama schtick.  He embarrasses himself when he tries to sound like he knows ball but if his approach is going to be the asking the questions that stick yah in the screws, I'm here for it.  Might make himself useful after all. 

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19 minutes ago, JiFapono said:

Connor is a drama queen, he doesnt know anything about Football, so I actually appreciate him sticking to the drama schtick.  He embarrasses himself when he tries to sound like he knows ball but if his approach is going to be the asking the questions that stick yah in the screws, I'm here for it.  Might make himself useful after all. 

Connor is an embarrassment in every way.  The worst.

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the good news is they are still 5-3 and will most likely be 5-4 at the break.  okay they should be 6-2 right now but that ship has sailed.  as for wilson, it's hard to see what he sees without seeing the game tape.  were there more guys open?  were there quick passes available?  wilson seemed to want to throw deeper than he should have many times and that caused him to try and scramble around.  to me this is bad game sense.  he needs to learn to move the chains first and i'm surprised he didn't rush more.

and doesn't it seem like the patsies always have a second receiver nearby the pass catcher to chop down on the defender or create a pick?  or how about how they mug the jets receivers and throw them off their routes.

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44 minutes ago, JiFapono said:

I'm telling you, you could see it in that moment, Saleh was flat footed because he didnt have an answer.  He knows, without a shadow of a doubt, Zach is holding his team back.  100%, it was written all over his face.

check the question, the pause and the face he makes, they know it in the building, 6;45 the question is asked. 

 

 

i usually dont watch this stuff cause its the same old " this team has to get better" stuff.

but wow, that was a long ass pause.

 i agree with you. that pause tell me your right. Saleh knows Zach is holding them back.

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1 hour ago, JoeNamathsFurCoat said:

Not smart enough.  No situational awareness.

He’s skittish, impetuous and reckless.  With a penchant for glory-seeking hero ball regardless of down and distance.

A smart QB would have studied the Bears v Pats film and recognized the acres of space being afforded by the Pats aggressive man coverage where their DBs often have their back turned to the offense.

It’s ridiculous how Wilson’s first and only instinct seems to be to flee the pocket ass backwards towards his own goal line.

When Mckorkle is under pressure he does the opposite, and tends to run or fall forward or at worst just drops to the ground.

I actually do think he’s smart, and does know what to do.  I think the problem is rooted in his quotes yesterday about how ‘it’s boring to throw it away’ and ruin a play.  I think he’s stubborn.  I think he knows what to do and knows what the coaches want him to do but then in the game he runs around and forces passes.  I think the jets coaches thought, and rightfully so, that this recklessness could be coached out of him.  But what they have is a 22 yr old who is still operating under the delusion that his pure physical skills can win the day.  

Fast forward 8 yrs later and you see geno smith playing within his skill sets, and running an offense, and maybe it just takes time for some qbs to get there.  The problem for the jets is that the rest of the team IS there.

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5 minutes ago, doitny said:

i usually dont watch this stuff cause its the same old " this team has to get better" stuff.

but wow, that was a long ass pause.

 i agree with you. that pause tell me your right. Saleh knows Zach is holding them back.

100%, me too but it wasnt just the pause, it was the face he made.  He was flat footed because it hit him where it hurts.  It was very telling.  And the b.s. we have to rally around him answer?  Brah, you always need to rally around your players. 

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2 minutes ago, Augustiniak said:

I actually do think he’s smart, and does know what to do.  I think the problem is rooted in his quotes yesterday about how ‘it’s boring to throw it away’ and ruin a play.  I think he’s stubborn.  I think he knows what to do and knows what the coaches want him to do but then in the game he runs around and forces passes.  I think the jets coaches thought, and rightfully so, that this recklessness could be coached out of him.  But what they have is a 22 yr old who is still operating under the delusion that his pure physical skills can win the day.  

Fast forward 8 yrs later and you see geno smith playing within his skill sets, and running an offense, and maybe it just takes time for some qbs to get there.  The problem for the jets is that the rest of the team IS there.

im not sure if he is bored throwing it away as much as saying to himself, how many times can i throw it away without making a play. im sure he watches game where QBs make plays while on the run. he never makes any.

right now as soon as he runs the down is over. the only question is when is he going to stop running and if he gives me a heart attack with a dangerous inbounds throw.

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I have been one of those fans that believed (hoped) that Zach was making incremental improvements week over week and was moving in the right direction toward becoming a decent QB. I think yesterday proved that without a strong running game he isn’t capable of taking charge and winning a game himself. He is still making the same rookie mistakes this year. Last year when the team was lacking the horses to win his deficiencies were more acceptable because in the big picture said he had the talent to become a franchise type QB.

All of that said, he is now hurting the teams chances of making the playoffs and they need to bench him and see what either White or Streveler can do. I don’t think Flacco can lead them to the playoffs and I don’t believe there are any QB’s that are out there and available. I would love to get Minshew but I cant see Philly trading away a quality QB in case Hurts gets injured.

A lot of words to say that I guess I too am officially off the Zach bandwagon.

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12 minutes ago, Augustiniak said:

I actually do think he’s smart, and does know what to do.  I think the problem is rooted in his quotes yesterday about how ‘it’s boring to throw it away’ and ruin a play.  I think he’s stubborn.  I think he knows what to do and knows what the coaches want him to do but then in the game he runs around and forces passes.  I think the jets coaches thought, and rightfully so, that this recklessness could be coached out of him.  But what they have is a 22 yr old who is still operating under the delusion that his pure physical skills can win the day.  

Fast forward 8 yrs later and you see geno smith playing within his skill sets, and running an offense, and maybe it just takes time for some qbs to get there.  The problem for the jets is that the rest of the team IS there.

He’s too quick to flee the pocket 

Some of those rollouts are designed obviously, but I am talking about everything else 

When you’re constantly fleeing literally all the way to the boundary to avoid pressure / getting hit, you’ve eliminated half the field from your reads, including some of your check downs 

Some of these are problems of his own making 

He has to figure out how to play from the pocket 

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Saleh couldn't answer that question, because he doesn't know how to develop a quarterback. He wants a game manager at quarterback and to rely on his defense and running game. This is the background he was surrounded by in San Francisco, Jacksonville and Seattle. He's looking to try and replicate that type of football in New York, to re-create his own version of the 'Legion of Boom' and that Niners defensive front seven. 

He wants Wilson to try and go back to what he was doing the last four weeks, but that's not really developing a young quarterback. And ithat conservative gameplan on offense is not sustainable anymore, given the injuries to Hall and the o-line. 

Wilson is just a bad fit for the Saleh/LeFleur offense. The wonder is why we drafted him so high. 

Ultimately, Saleh will likely win enough games this year that he will have enough brownie points earned to go to Douglas, and say 'Ok, give me a veteran QB that will keep it simple and not turn the ball over'. Which again saves him the headache of having to develop someone. 

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1 minute ago, JoeNamathsFurCoat said:

He’s too quick to flee the pocket 

Some of those rollouts are designed obviously, but I am talking about everything else 

When you’re constantly fleeing literally all the way to the boundary to avoid pressure / getting hit, you’ve eliminated half the field from your reads, including some of your check downs 

Some of these are problems of his own making 

He has to figure out how to play from the pocket 

His instinct is to run back instead of throw it to the closest guy to get positive yards.  He’s still playing hero ball, the same guy who was sprinting for a meaningless first down in the first preseason game when he hurt his knee.  He has not learned.

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6 hours ago, hawk said:

Saleh's mantra seems to be changing.  

It will be a true test to see how JD handles Wilson.  Does he recognize he isn't the answer, give him so more time, or will he be the typical stubborn Jets GM who rides and dies with him.  

I think Wilson is a smart player.  I think he has all the talent in the world.  On paper.  It just isn't translating in application.

I think he’s loaded with talent.

I don’t think he’s smart. Smart in a football context = recognition, processing, application. He does none of this adequately. Most young players struggle with this.

His fundamentals are also atrocious. 

Sit him down and let his all of this (which I limp in under ‘skill’) catch up to his talent. 

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1 hour ago, Creepy Lurker said:

I’m not sure how you can say he’s smart. He’s the dumbest QB that I’ve ever seen with regard to many aspects of his game. He can’t read a defense at all and doesn’t even understand how different velocities are important depending on the type of throw. Firing lasers to RBs on screen passes isn’t about his poor accuracy. It’s a dumb decision. Again, I just don’t understand that comment is all. 

I think he understands the game of football.  I think he understands in the classroom.  I think he understands the game plan and what's expected of him.

He doesn't see it on the field.

We have definitely seen dumb players who don't understand.  I don't think Zach is dumb.

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There was a Move The Sticks podcast before the season where the question was asked to Daniel Jeremiah, if the Jets knew Zach was the FQB or if the Jets hoped Zach was the FQB.   DjJ, who is supposed to be tight with Joe Douglas, said the Jets Front Office was Hope.  I think they are about empty on hope.

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Wilson at this point in time reminds me of TampaBay Steve Young where you see the ability but the game is still too fast and complex when the live bullets are flying and he can’t process his progressions fast enough so he panics. 
 

He may need to sit some more if this year’s Jets team has a shot at the playoffs and he’s the weak link. Not giving up on him, but can’t depend on him NOW (perhaps later) and for the greater good of the team; the Jets need a spark at QB

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A good HC would have glued Wilson to the bench after that first INT.

I don't get why Saleh is so terrified of an in-game benching scenario.

Mac Jones got benched after 3 series on MNF, returned yesterday with no fanfare, and won.

Even if you forget about the INT before the half, the offense had scored all of 10 pts.  It's not like Wilson was lighting up the Patriots before the ugly INT.

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