Rich CiminiESPN Staff Writer4 Minute Read
ARLINGTON, Texas — The New York Jets‘ first game without Aaron Rodgers was a disaster, as quarterback Zach Wilson threw three interceptions in a 30-10 loss to the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday at AT&T Stadium. Afterward, the Jets rallied around Rodgers’ replacement with confidence-building words and gestures.
In the locker room, wide receiver Garrett Wilson put his arm around the young QB and gave him words of encouragement. The three tight ends were there too, showing support. It was a telling scene, as the Jets (1-1) made it a point to not cast any blame on their former starter-turned-backup.
“From the outside looking in, it’s easy to play the quarterback blame game,” Garrett Wilson said. “Honestly, that’s the world we live in, where you look at the top man — the head man, the quarterback, the one who makes the money — and then point the finger. But all of us internally know that we all have to take the right steps and get better.”
The Jets endured a trying six days, losing Rodgers to a season-ending Achilles tendon injury and having to pivot on a short week to Zach Wilson, who was demoted twice last season amid profound struggles. Except for one shining moment — a 68-yard touchdown pass to Garrett Wilson, who gained 55 yards after the catch — it was a dismal outing for the signal-caller and the offense on Sunday.
The game ended with four turnovers on New York’s last five series, including interceptions on the final three possessions. An 18-10 halftime deficit turned into a fourth-quarter blowout, which undoubtedly will increase the outside noise among those who want the front office to acquire another quarterback.
Zach Wilson completed 12 of 27 passes for 170 yards, throwing for only 76 yards in the second half. Coach Robert Saleh defended the performance, absolving Wilson of blame on the second and third interceptions.
“I thought he did a nice job,” Saleh said. “Obviously, late in the game, he had to force the ball to make something happen and, obviously, it didn’t go our way. There was a miscommunication on one of his interceptions with him and the back. They have a hell of a front.
“He did a really nice job in the pocket, extending plays, scrambling. He had a couple of nice off-schedule plays. It just wasn’t good enough.”
The Jets are exploring the possibility of adding a third quarterback, perhaps as soon as this week, but have stated emphatically that Wilson will be the QB1. This was supposed to be a learning year for the 2021 No. 2 overall draft pick, but everything changed on the fourth play of the first game when Rodgers went down.
Wilson’s performance on Sunday — at least statistically — was strikingly similar to many past games. (He began the day with 16 touchdown passes and 19 interceptions over his career.) He is no stranger to adversity, but he insisted he is better equipped to handle it this time.
“Absolutely, man,” he said. “I feel like I’m seeing [the field] well, I really do. It’s just really unfortunate to show that as an offense. We have to be better, I need to be better, but we’re right there.”
Wilson was under heavy duress, as he was pressured on 16 of 30 dropbacks, according to NFL Next Gen Stats. (That doesn’t include his five scrambles for a team-high 36 rushing yards.) Cowboys linebacker Micah Parsons was a force, recording two sacks and nine pressures. Wilson completed only 2 of 13 passes when pressured, continuing a trend. Since entering the league in 2021, he is the worst quarterback in the NFL when pressured, according to the statistics.
But some of the pressure could be attributed to Wilson, who held the ball too long at times. He had no support from the running game, as Breece Hall and Dalvin Cook combined for only 16 yards on eight carries. Cook also lost a fumble. The Jets ran into a lot of eight-man fronts. A quarterback with Rodgers’ experience would have been able to change the play at the line of scrimmage.
Hall seemed unhappy with his workload.
“I mean, I only got four touches. That’s why we struggled,” he said. “It is what it is. We just got down early today and just abandoned the run. That type of stuff happens. You feel like you have to get back in the game and it just slips away.”
That, coupled with uncharacteristic defensive struggles, put a lot of pressure on Wilson. But he didn’t seem discouraged by his performance.
“It’s tough, man,” Wilson said. “I thought I was seeing it well for the first three quarters of that game, but we kept getting stopped.”
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