Zach Wilson, Jets show signs of life after loss to Chiefs. Will they be able to pull it off? | ET REALITY

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EAST RUTHERFORD, New Jersey – New York Jets coach Robert Saleh walked up to the lectern Sunday night and gripped it so hard it should have snapped in half. There were times when Saleh didn’t talk much, but his hands did. He had his right fist clenched and pounded on the lectern, as if all the things he wanted to say, to scream, were just beneath the surface. He tried to stay calm.

At the end of Sunday’s game against the Kansas City Chiefs, a 23-20 loss, Saleh was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct for attacking a referee after the Jets were charged with a penalty that could have altered the outcome of a game that I was away. closer than anyone could have expected. The Jets had removed Patrick Mahomes for the third time, but he was called off for a questionable play. defensive holding penaltyagainst cornerback Sauce Gardner.

“I’m not going to comment on that,” Saleh said.

A few plays earlier, defensive end Jermaine Johnson It was held by a Chiefs offensive lineman as Mahomes scrambled for 25 yards on third-and-23, but there was no flag. When reporters approached Johnson in the locker room, he seemed ready to explode, staring at the ground, furious. They told him to shower before answering any questions to freshen up.

Rage.

The Jets are angry. This was a game they could have won, should have won, against the defending Super Bowl champions. Zach Wilson outplayed Mahomes; yes, he really did. The way Wilson played, especially late in the first half, was good enough to inspire some hope for the rest of the season. That, perhaps, Wilson could be good enough to keep the Jets afloat while they await Aaron Rodgers’ return, whether this year (a pipe dream) or next. But a season is full of moments that can change your trajectory.


Robert Saleh was penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct at the end of Sunday’s game. (Elsa/Getty Images)

The Jets are 1-3 after four weeks. Any good will derived from Wilson’s performance against the Chiefs (and he deserves praise for that) will quickly evaporate if he can’t do it against the Broncos in Denver next week. The Jets’ season has already reached a critical point and Sunday night’s loss didn’t help.

Perhaps the penalty given to Gardner (or the one not given to Johnson) would have changed the outcome if either of them had gone the other way, but there were other moments too. Like when the defense quickly put the Jets into a 17-0 deficit, a first-quarter performance filled with miscommunications and missed tackles, like Isiah Pacheco’s 48-yard touchdown run. Or when Saleh decided to kick a 52-yard field goal on fourth-and-1 late in the first half, and Greg Zuerlein missed.

In the third quarter, when the Jets could have taken the lead, Wilson completed a 15-yard pass to CJ Uzomah, but it was negated by a penalty to center Connor McGovern. The engine stopped and they drove away. The defense forced a three-pointer and then the Jets made a three-pointer. The Chiefs scored a field goal on their next drive and then Wilson made his biggest mistake of the season.

He received a cross from McGovern, could not retain the ball and dropped it to the grass, recovered by the Chiefs, a brutal loss at a critical moment. That was his last play.

Wilson took the loss.

“It’s up to me,” Wilson said. “Critical situation, I can’t make a play like that. I can’t drop the ball. This team is sacrificing a lot. Guys are making plays. The defense was making plays. O-line was protecting. The receivers were making plays. Driving right there, snapping, I can’t do that. “I lost that game and I can’t do that.”

On the bench, Wilson blamed himself, but his teammates wouldn’t let him. He tried again in the locker room, said receiver Allen Lazard, speaking to the team after Saleh spoke, with the same message.

Wilson “was just trying to take the blame for everything and that’s the competitor in him,” Lazard said. “I was just comforting him by saying, ‘We all made mistakes today. You weren’t the only one. Obviously, that one stands out more because he was later in the game, but he played amazing.”

That’s a level of responsibility Wilson didn’t show last year. He also showed some things as a quarterback that he had never shown before. For three weeks, offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett had been calling plays that made it clear the Jets were afraid Wilson would make mistakes. And so, in turn, Wilson played like someone who was afraid to make mistakes.

This week the plan changed. The message: Let it explode.

“They told us we’re going to do this to win this game,” McGovern said. “We’re not going into this so we don’t lose.”

Hackett worked more action into the script (he took Wilson out of the pocket) and it worked. He completed seven of eight passes in play, according to TruMedia, after completing 8 of 15 in the first three games. He had five pass attempts that went more than 20 yards in the air and completed three of them. He was 1 for 6 in the first three games. His best pass was on the 10-yard touchdown to Lazard, thrown into tight coverage, where only Lazard could get it.

Wilson set a career-high in completions (28) and finished with 245 passing yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions.

“He took some risks tonight and they paid off,” wide receiver Randall Cobb said. “He’s been wanting to make those shots but he’s been very worried about mistakes, turnovers, and he has the ability. He showed it tonight.”

Anyone who has followed the Jets for the last decade (or more) is tired of hearing about moral victories. But just when the Jets were left for dead, they almost defeated the Chiefs. The defense started slowly, but allowed just three points after the first quarter and intercepted Mahomes twice. Travis Kelce, facing Taylor Swift, didn’t have a significant impact. Hackett created touches for playmakers who hadn’t received enough of the ball before, such as Xavier Gipson and Garrett Wilson, who was targeted 14 times. The offensive line held up well.

And Wilson finally looked like an NFL-caliber starting quarterback. The Jets are another loss away from their season being derailed, but for now, it’s fair to feel like this team is close, but only if Wilson can do it again.

And again.

And again.

There are 14 weeks left in the season. A moral victory in Week 4 won’t mean much if the Jets lose again in Week 5.

But can Wilson play as well the rest of the way? Chiefs defensive tackle Chris Jones put it simply.

“They can be special,” he said.

(Top photo: Dustin Satloff/Getty Images)


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