Generally speaking I think one of the biggest problems with NFL analysis is the tendency for people to view the latest chapter as the final chapter. In reality things change from season to season and week to week.
I am sure there will be plenty of takes this week about how the Jets are doomed and made a big mistake moving on from Sam Darnold. Darnold played well as his team improved to 2-0. His replacement, Zach Wilson, played about as ugly of a game as you will ever see. The Jets fell to 0-2.
In reality we won’t know whether the Jets made the correct decision for years. I am sure many of the people criticizing the Jets for trading Darnold were declaring him hopeless during his struggles last year. I am also sure they will forget Darnold’s early 2021 success if he regresses in the weeks ahead.
The fact of the matter is that the decision to move on from Darnold had many layers. It wasn’t solely Darnold vs. Wilson. You also had to factor in the ability to get a quarterback on a cost controlled deal for three extra years by drafting Wilson among after things.
Another reality is that Darnold should be outperforming Wilson right now. He is in his fourth season as a starter. Wilson’s fourth game won’t come for another two weeks.
So what can we take from this game?
It certainly isn’t the end of Zach Wilson’s career. That isn’t to say this performance by Wilson can be completely dismissed. It was as dreadful as any quarterback performance I can remember. He threw four interceptions in his first ten attempts. Beyond that, I thought all four were his fault. There’s only one where I could even see an argument to blame somebody else, but on that one he passed up an easy completion to try and fit a pass into traffic.
This wasn’t Darnold seeing ghosts because Bill Belichick threw exotic looks at him. This wasn’t a quarterback being dragged down by his surroundings. The Jets actually got a winning effort out of most of the roster in the game. The offensive line showed a big improvement from the first week, and the Jets got their run game working. An undermanned defense also played a spirited game, keeping the Jets in it at halftime despite the quarterback’s mistakes keeping the unit on the field for too long.
You just can’t win a game with your quarterback playing like this. Sometimes we give the quarterback too much credit for team success and too much credit for team failure. Not today. Zach Wilson cost the Jets this game.
But that is different from saying this was the final chapter. Zach Wilson is not a bust because of this performance. All hope is not lost.
Part of being a successful quarterback in this league is shaking off the performances like this. In some ways that’s what separates the guys who make it from those who don’t.
I could show you games where a young Peyton Manning or a young Russell Wilson didn’t look like they belonged in the NFL.
Of course I could also show you games where Mark Sanchez and Geno Smith first showed alarming trends that would continue.
Is this a game Wilson will overcome, or will we remember this as the first sign of trouble? I can’t tell you for sure. You’re lying to yourself if you think you can tell me.
I think anybody who watched Wilson closely in college could tell you his low interception totals at BYU were something of a mirage. He was a quarterback who threw a lot of high danger passes. In a way this wasn’t the worst thing in world. Part of his playmaking appeal stemmed from his willingness to take risks. Still this was always something that was going to need refinement if Wilson was to go on to have a successful NFL career.
These things weren’t going to fix themselves. There was always going to be a learning curve, and these issues were going to be on display early in his career.
Admittedly I think people were hoping these errors wouldn’t happen with this catastrophic frequency so quickly.
What happened today isn’t as important as what is to come. It was inevitable that Wilson was going to cost the Jets a game. Now we will begin to find out whether he can learn from his mistakes and shake off failure. These are some of the things that separate the great quarterbacks from the bad ones. These aren’t easy to do, but developing into a franchise quarterback is one of the most difficult tasks in sports.
Maybe we’ll look back on this as a speed bump on the way to a successful career. Maybe this was the first warning sign. All we can do is wait to find out.