Improvement Jets’ Zach Wilson showed still isn’t good enough

At first glance Sunday, it sure seemed that Zach Wilson took a meaningful step toward becoming the franchise player the Jets drafted him to be. He threw for two touchdowns and ran for another in the first half, giving the Eagles a live look at why their coach Nick Sirianni had said they were head over heels for the dynamo from BYU.

Philly had considered trading up to pick Wilson, but ultimately didn’t do the deal. The Jets got their man with the No. 2 overall pick, and more than seven months later they threw him out there against the Eagles in MetLife Stadium, and hoped he would outscore an opponent no Jets quarterback had beaten in 11 previous tries.

At last, Wilson got off to the kind of start the Jets have been waiting for all season. Robert Saleh had talked repeatedly of the rookie’s need to get comfortable earlier in games, and lo and behold Wilson made himself at home — at home — and honored Braxton Berrios’s 79-yard opening kickoff return by leading his team to touchdowns on its first three drives.

This was going to be the day, my friend. Twenty-five years from now, when Wilson gets enshrined in Canton as a two-time Super Bowl MVP and the icon who ended the franchise’s endless title drought, people would point to this victory over Philly as the moment Wilson arrived as a winning NFL starter.

Zach Wilson
Zach Wilson walks off the field after the Jets’ loss to the Eagles on Sunday.
Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

Only there would be no victory over Philly, and no brilliant performance in the second half to follow up his brilliant performance in the first. In fact, despite the progress he made, Wilson was still the second-best quarterback on the field. And that’s a problem.

Gardner Minshew was taken 176 spots later in his draft (2019) than Wilson was in his, and he had thrown only two passes this season. He hadn’t made a start in almost 12 months, so he should have been dealing with a lot more rust than Wilson, who had thrown 205 passes this year in eight starts, including last week’s victory at Houston that marked his comeback from a knee injury.

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Minshew completed 14 of 15 passes in the first half for two touchdowns and 188 yards, posting a perfect passer rating of 158.3 before finishing the game going 20-for-25 for 242 yards and no interceptions. Meanwhile, Wilson completed only 11 of 24 attempts in the second-half and threw a ghastly interception in what would be a dispiriting 33-18 defeat that clinched another losing season for the Jets, their sixth in a row.

Up front, understand that quarterbacks will always tell you that they don’t compete against each other, that they compete against the opposing defense. It’s what they say for public consumption, and not really what they say in private settings. Go ask Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, on truth serum, if they felt they weren’t really competing against each other back in the day.

Zach Wilson threw for two touchdowns and ran for another in the Jets loss to the Eagles on Sunday.
Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

The quarterback is the sport’s only position that is assigned a win or a loss after each game for a reason: The player’s chief responsibility is to score more points than his counterpart. In that context — the most relevant context — Wilson clearly failed Sunday, with some almost comical help from a new kicker named Alex Kessman, who should send his next call from the Jets’ front office to voicemail.

If you want to argue that the home team’s defense failed more than the quarterback did, no sweat. By their in-game actions and postgame words, the Jets clearly spent all week preparing to face Jalen Hurts, who injured his ankle against the Giants, and spent no time on Minshew. Given that those two quarterbacks have dramatically different skill sets (even while running the same system), Saleh has to take a hit for that.

Gardner Minshew celebrates with Eagles fans at MetLife Stadium.
Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

His defense allowed the Eagles to open the second half with a 14-play drive that bled 8 minutes and 22 seconds from the clock, icing Wilson on the bench and compromising his bid to meet Saleh’s stated projection of an “explosive” second half. If it ultimately felt like the Jets’ offense was off the field for about two hours, it didn’t help that Wilson answered Philly’s 8:22 drive by going three-and-out, with two incompletes, on his first possession of the second half.

When it was all over, Saleh called Wilson’s footwork “awesome” and said the kid had “by far his best game” of playing within the Jets’ scheme.

“Now the next step comes with finding that balance of how I can go out and use my playmaking ability,” Wilson said, “and also stay within the offense 99 percent of the time.”

Actually, the next step is figuring out how to win a home game against a backup with a 7-13 career record. Zach Wilson was pretty good Sunday, but when you’re the No. 2 overall pick, that isn’t good enough.

Artmotion U.S.A

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