Jets continue to lose in an ineffective game losing to Bills, all focus is on QB Zach Wilson

Jets finally bench QB Zach Wilson during another ineffective game in loss vs. Bills


Nov 19, 2023; Orchard Park, New York, USA; New York Jets quarterback Zach Wilson (2) looks on from the sidelines after being replaced by quarterback Tim Boyle (7) (not pictured) during the second half against the Buffalo Bills at Highmark Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

 

Zach Wilson‘a miserable outing Sunday earned him a spot on the bench in the second half vs. the Bills. (Gregory Fisher/USA TODAY Sports) (USA TODAY USPW / reuters)
 

As snapshots of a season go, it was the perfection illustration of relentless imperfection.

Midway through the third quarter on Sunday, New York Jets quarterback Zach Wilson was careening out of bounds on his own sideline. The Jets trailed the Buffalo Bills 22-6, the offense was once again plummeting down a mineshaft, and now Wilson was on a collision course with his head coach, Robert Saleh. By the time both recognized the inevitable, it was too late. Saleh held his arms out to brace for an unavoidable crash, leaving both tumbling and then sprawling onto the turf.

CBS cameras caught the moment and replayed it from different angles, offering up a chance for everyone to see that sometimes, games can paint moments that perfectly symbolize a football team and a season. And this one was a Rembrandt — with the lone imperfection being that Jets general manager Joe Douglas and the team’s playoff hopes were not each flat on their backs next to Saleh and Wilson. But in this case, the literal representation wasn’t required. By now, most anyone following the Jets knows that nearly everything has been flattened this season when it has intersected with Wilson. Whether it be a playoff shot, offensive productivity, or a roster built to win right now (even with a crumbling offensive line).

Time for the Zach Wilson experiment to end after benching

Each was placed into Wilson’s hands. All were ultimately fumbled away. To the point that even Saleh, who has been taking Wilson-related body shots for weeks, benched Wilson in the third quarter of Sunday’s 32-6 loss and appeared closer than ever to declaring “no más” when it comes to moving forward with him as the team’s starter.

“We’re going to watch the tape and we’ll make a decision tomorrow,” Saleh told reporters Sunday night.

That was a noted change in tone for Saleh, who has refused to consider a quarterback change — all while simultaneously pointing to the rest of the roster as part of the problem. It was reasoning that he again leaned on Sunday, which at least keeps the door ajar on Wilson getting another shot either next weekend or further down the line.

“It was 29-6 [when Wilson was benched for Tim Boyle], and like I said, like I told Zach on the sideline, it’s not just him.” Saleh said. “It’s easy to point the finger at the quarterback, but it’s pretty easy to see you’ve got missed protections, you’ve got dropped balls, you’ve got missed routes. Obviously he’s got to get better. There’s things he could have done a lot better, but it’s everyone right now. … I don’t think anyone did anything today. Players, coaches, schemes, it was obviously not good enough. None of it was good.”

Whether you agree with Saleh’s premise or not, there’s little doubt it was better protection for Wilson than the quarterback got from his offensive line. But what Saleh knows and isn’t saying — and what Douglas knew when he traded for Aaron Rodgers — is that a winning quarterback has to be able to overcome imperfection at least some of the time. Wilson has rarely done that in his three years as a starter. This despite the roster around him getting considerably better in that time.

What’s happening in New York is a twice-baked mistake. And those are the kind that kill organizations, jobs, winning seasons, Super Bowl windows and finally, ownership faith. The only difference for the Jets is that Douglas recognized the mistake and tried to remedy it, but in the process, he didn’t fully account for how dangerous Wilson’s inability to overcome mistakes could ultimately be. Nor did he think the absolute worst-case scenario could come to fruition. Then Rodgers went down on the first drive of the season, and it did.

You can’t blame Douglas and Saleh for bad luck. The Jets never had a chance to showcase what they could be with Rodgers at the helm, and most franchises (if not all), would have kept their former No. 2 overall draft pick at the backup spot and hoped that his career could be refurbished over time. But the flip side of that plan is a significant measure of risk. And the Jets have been dealing with the ramifications of that downside all season long.

What makes this situation frustrating is that the Jets knew what Wilson was after watching him for two years as a starter. It stands to reason that if Rodgers were lost at any point — and certainly that had to at least be entertained as a scenario given his age — there should have been a question asked in connection with it. And that question is this: If Rodgers is lost for extended time, why is there confidence that Wilson’s performance will be any different than it was in his first two seasons?

There’s a backdrop of knowledge for that question. When the Wilson plan went wrong for the Jets, the internal assessment of the failure after the 2022 season landed on one central point of regret: If the franchise could do it all over again, Wilson would have redshirted his rookie season. When the powerbrokers inside the organization looked back on what went wrong, it was the assumption that Wilson was ready to commandeer the team as a rookie, even when the surrounding depth chart had lingering issues.

He wasn’t ready. What they didn’t expect was the consequences of that reality. Not only wasn’t he ready in 2021, it would linger into a disastrous 2022 and get worse to the point of a near mutiny in the locker room. The response to that was to admit the mistake and make a move for Rodgers. But that move ended up carrying the fatal flaw that we are seeing now.

 

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