With the Jets on their bye week it’s a great time to reflect on what has happened during the first six weeks and the road ahead. No mystical prophet could have foretold the wild happenings of the Jets 2023 season.
A year that started with Super Bowl aspirations disappeared for the most part after the 4th snap of the season when Aaron Rodgers tore his Achilles tendon. All the hype, all the talk, all the grandeur of Hard Knocks went up in flames in the 4th snap of the season, like some kind of bad dream.
I am not going to say that I have preached, screamed, ranted, yelled and wrote about the need for the Jets to select quality offensive linemen, especially offensive tackles (Tristan Wirfs and Christian Darrisaw) in the draft but I just did it again. It took 4 snaps into the season to realize how incredibly necessary it was, especially with a nearly 40 year old QB.
That tragic, horrible feeling reminded me of the 2000 season when QB Vinny Testaverde tore his Achilles when the Jets were primed for a Super Bowl run. That season was a downturn for the Jets as Parcells moved on. That brought in an era of 3 coaches in 9 years with combined records of 71-73.
The 2023 season turned into a nightmare scenario for all the Zack Wilson haters out there as they had to root for the guy they had so hated. No true fan of the Jets roots against their players even though they might not like those players.
The 2023 Jets team was constructed with a vison of a Super Bowl run with a sure fire, first year Hall of Fame QB in Aaron Rodgers. The fact that you had a near giddy Aaron Rodgers leading the team had even me thinking this could work even with the offensive line deficiencies. The Jets have a great defense with some superior young players who are only now coming into their own. They will continue to grow into better players throughout the year. They are smart, talented, athletic with the desire to get better. That is a winning combination.
So what happened?
Something happened that most Jet fans could have never imagined. Zach Wilson stepped up.
Zach Wilson came to the Jets as a 21 year old kid who had a rookie head coach in Robert Saleh who was a defensive coordinator before. Saleh had zero knowledge of how to groom a young QB. Then in a wild spirit of sentient thought Saleh hired an offensive coordinator who had never called plays before, never developed an offense before and had never developed or even instructed a QB before, let alone a young QB from the mountains of Utah with zero knowledge of life in a city like New York.
As New Yorkers our life is normal, this is the way life is. I remember bringing my wife to New York for the first time many years ago and she was amazed at life in the big city. When you experience New York City for the first time it must be shocking or even foreboding. What we take as normal life is so wildly different for a girl from New Hampshire like my wife.
This is what life was like for Zach Wilson (similar to my wife), yet Zach was in the crosshairs of the New York media on a 24/7 basis. He was never told of the insane scrutiny he would be under, and he couldn’t have anticipated the level it would attain.
After 4 snaps of the 2023 season Zach Wilson was thrown into a new offense that was designed, specialized and perfected for Aaron Rodgers. Zach took very few reps as the primary play caller during the preseason. The offense was a collaboration of Aaron Rodgers and offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett. Every facet of the offense was designed for the express purpose of giving Aaron Rodgers anything he wanted. The Jets were all in on Aaron Rodgers, as they should have been.
Zach Wilson was now the starting QB (that nobody wanted) for the New York Jets five snaps into the 2023 season. If Joe Douglas had belief in Wilson, he would have given him a veteran coach to nurture him. He could have developed over time instead of working with an offensive coordinator who had little patience, no knowledge to teach, couldn’t develop a pair of 2nd round receivers in Denzel Mims and Elijah Moore. Instead of developing players he admonished them. By the way his offense was poor except for a few plays that were off the norm. He is now gone.
Instead of being a disaster about to happen Zach came in with a calming influence. He had the offense moving but missed on a few passes so the defense stepped up to halt the Bills. Zach then drove the Jets to the Buffalo 8 but the offense stalled, so they tied the game with a 26 yard field goal.
The Bills dominated the rest of the quarter and went into half time with a 13-3 lead. In the 2nd half Zach worked well, scoring 13 unanswered points for a lead. Zach wasn’t perfect, yet he was competent against a super aggressive Bills defense. The Jets had the lead when “Greg the leg” kicked a 30 yard field goal with 1:48 left in the game. In true Jets fashion the defense allowed Josh Allen to march his team into field goal range after the Jets had shut him out the entire 2nd half. The Bills tied the game with 2 seconds left.
That’s when Jets fans said “here we go again; close but no cigar,” but that was not prophetic. The Jets stopped the Bills attempt to win the game in overtime by forcing a punt, which resulted in an exhilarating punt return for a touchdown from Xavier Gipson to win the game. It’s a moment that all true Jets fans will remember with glee since it happened on Monday night (where the Jets are a combined 24-35 including losing the first ever Monday night game) in front of a nationwide audience who were expecting a Jets disaster.
The game was an exception for many as Zach Wilson led the Jets from behind against the Bills but he had done the same thing last year. Zack had led the Jets back from a 14-3 deficit in November of 2022 for a 20-17 win against the Bills on a late “Greg the leg” 28 yard field goal with under two minutes to play.
The following week the Jets were steamrolled by the Dallas Cowboys. The Jets had a chance when the game was 10-7, but a game changing pick six slipped through the hands of Sauce Gardner. That drive ended with a Dallas touchdown and two point conversion to make it 18-7 with 1:52 left in the half. Zach was able to move the Jets into field goal range before the half with Austin Seibert kicking a 34 yarder with 4 seconds left to intermission. The second half the Jets offense was stagnant as Dallas added 4 field goals to pull away with a 20 point victory. The Jets defense allowed CeeDee Lamb 11 catches for 143 yards on the day; he was always open. The Jets O-line couldn’t block the Cowboys as the Jets RBs averaged 2.4 yards a carry and allowed 3 sacks. Zach Wilson threw 3 interceptions and was scrambling all day. When your QB is your leading rusher (36 yards on 5 scrambles) it’s probably not a good day.
The following week saw the Jets frustratingly fail against the New England Patriots when the Jets allowed a backup tight end to be left alone for a 58 yard TD. The offensive line again was a sore spot as they allowed 3 sacks again (one safety) with the Jets runners averaging a futile 1.7 yards on 22 carries. The Jets had a chance to pull out an improbable victory, but the last second “Hail Mary” slipped off the fingertips of Randall Cobb as time expired. Zach was an uninspiring 18 for 36 for 157 yards. The offense as a whole was poor in a 15-10 loss.
Week 4 saw the Jets host the Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs in a Sunday night affair. Had Aaron Rodgers not gotten injured, this game would have had the mass media conglomerates licking their chops thinking Mahomes vs Rodgers in the Big Apple. Add to that the frenzy of a Travis Kelce/Taylor Swift romance with Swift attending the game and the media must have been frothing at the mouth.
Unfortunately, Rodgers was on the sidelines using crutches. They still had the Kelce/Swift angle, but the Jets were overmatched as the champs sped out to a 17-0 lead with less than 12 minutes gone in the game. The defense (which had been getting shredded) then made a game changing play, as the Chiefs were called for holding in the end zone for a safety. The Jets reeled off 12 straight points before the Chiefs answered with a field goal. Zach Wilson maneuvered the Jets into field goal range before the half but the Greg Zuerlein kick doinked off the goal post in the final 30 seconds for a 20-12 Chiefs halftime lead. It’s his only miss of the season to date.
The third quarter saw the Jets even things up with an Allen Lazard 10 yard TD catch and a Zach Wilson dive for a two point conversion that tied the game. The Jets offense struggled after that with numerous dropped passes and some untimely penalties. The Chiefs took the lead with almost 11 left in the game with a field goal. A Zach Wilson fumble on a bad snap gave the Chiefs the ball at the Jets 47 yard line with 7:24 left in the game. After that the refs took over as obvious holding calls were not made, especially on a third and 20 play where Jermaine Johnson was bear hugged while Mahomes scampered for a 1st down. Then a poor throw by Mahomes for his 3rd INT of the game was dismissed by a phantom holding call that was called on Sauce Gardner away from the play. The Jets never got the ball back after the fumble and the game was won by the Chiefs. Other than the fumble Zach Wilson clearly outplayed Patrick Mahomes. Zach was 28/39 245 yards 2 touchdowns and 0 interceptions while Mahomes was 18/30 203 yards 1 touchdown and 2 interceptions. The loss moved the Jets to 1-3.
With the Jets season circling the drain the Jets headed to Denver for a meeting with the struggling Broncos. The Jets had a frustrating day on offense as the team had over 400 yards of offense but were 0 for 5 in the red zone. They settled for 5 “Greg the leg” field goals. The day really belonged to Breece Hall. Like something out of a movie script Hall had 177 yards rushing, including a third quarter 72 yard touchdown scamper. It was on the same field that Hall had torn up his knee last season, which ended his promising rookie year.
In the end the Jets needed a Quincey Williams strip sack of Russell Wilson and a scoop and score from Bryce Hall to secure the win.
After an uplifting win on the road the Jets came home to face the undefeated Philadelphia Eagles, the defending NFC champions. This was a brutal game in which the Jets had few answers for the Eagles defense. The Jets allowed 5 sacks, were 2/11 on 3rd down and had 9 penalties accepted for 68 yards. They were out gained by the Eagles 348 to 244 but they hung in there against a superior foe.
The difference in the game was that the Jets didn’t allow any turnovers and scratched out 4 field goals to make it a game. The defense harassed Jalen Hurts all day which forced Hurts to take foolish chances. On the day Hurts had 3 interceptions. A D’Andre Swift fumble led to a field goal. In the end the last Hurts interception gave the Jets the ball deep in Eagles territory, which ultimately became a game winning Breece Hall touchdown run.
You could not ask for a better way for the Jets to go into the break than the Eagles game. It was a total team effort from start to finish.
Now the Jets must take what they have accomplished with a grain of salt as those games are in the past. This is a team that has to work for everything they get. They don’t have a track team like the Dolphins who get multiple long touchdowns. The Jets have to work for their scores, but that’s okay. Teams that live by the big play sometimes lose the ability to grind out a win against a tough defense.
The Jets just have to get better play from the offensive line to give Zach some time and Breece some holes. If they can get that the Jets have a number of very winnable games coming up in a schedule that starts with a “road” game at home against the Giants, who are in a shambles right now. Then the Chargers come into MetLife Stadium for a Monday night game which should be raucous. The Chargers have a high powered offense, but they are defensively challenged, so maybe this game can be sort of a coming out party for Zach Wilson and the entire offense.
The last two wins has put some wind back into the Jets sails.
Let’s see where it takes them.
What do you think?