In the blink of an eye, Wilson resembled the quarterback the Jets promised he would be on Draft Day 2021, and the last thing he will want to hear when he returns for his 2022 MetLife Stadium debut against the Dolphins is that deflating chorus of “Mike White” or “We Want Mike” that was ringing in Joe Flacco’s ears.
Wilson gave the fan base only flashes as a rookie, beating the Titans early and outdueling Trevor Lawrence late, but he raised the bar when he was at his best when his best was required on Sunday.
By no means does it automatically signal the official start of a second-year leap, but it allows the franchise and its long-suffering loyalists to spend this week dreaming.
It allows Joe Douglas and Robert Saleh — not to mention defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich — at least for the time being, to stop gasping for … heir.
“He’s always been a dog,” wide receiver Braxton Berrios said. “That’s the first thing I knew about him coming in here when we drafted him was he was an absolute competitor. He had that dog in him, and he was gonna fight and find a way.”
Even when Wilson struggled, his mobility kept him out of harm’s way and on a couple of hopeless occasions, he smartly threw the ball away to live another day. “He’s the same guy play in, play out,” Berrios said.
What he did at the end was what franchise quarterbacks are mandated to do: Elevate those around him. His offensive line was decimated and furiously reshuffled, but Wilson stood tall in the pocket and surveyed the field and delivered with accuracy and overcame it. If football is a game of flinches, Wilson was playing a different game.
“He was very poised, very calm throwing the ball, throwing darts, throwing lasers exactly where they needed to go,” Saleh said Monday, “and guys were just grinding after catch, getting yards after catch.”
The darts, the lasers, Wilson carried those into the NFL with him. His ultimate growth from here will be dependent upon how quickly and how masterfully he learns how to play the quarterback position at this level.
“It was very electric,” safety Lemarcus Joyner said. “It was great to have Zach back, I think missing the first three games he did really well coming back, and he was very composed, very mobile and he made some really good throws … a lot of excitement.”
Wilson enjoys a benefit that has been virtually foreign to Daniel Jones — second year with the same head coach, offensive coordinator and same offense.
“I felt Zach was really resilient, really confident throughout the whole game,” tight end Tyler Conklin said, “but I think really in that fourth quarter he really settled in and he was, ‘I’m gonna lead us to victory,’ and he did that.”
Saleh should no longer have to implore Wilson to play boring football. Douglas has gotten him better playmakers and thought he had surrounded him with better protectors, until the dominoes began falling left and right. Offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur’s Florham Park Special got Wilson a TD catch from Berrios, and the OC and QB got Elijah Moore and Corey Davis involved.
“He’s a natural-born leader,” center Connor McGovern said. “He’s doing the right things right now. I’m happy for him, very happy for him.”
The roller-coaster ride with a young franchise quarterback doesn’t end overnight. Jets fans can tell you as much. But their young franchise quarterback showed up as a resilient fighter in crunch time.
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