Wilson’s strong end to rookie season holds promise for Jets

NEW YORK (AP) – The most important number among all of Zach Wilson’s recent statistics is zero.

That’s the number of interceptions the New York Jets rookie quarterback has thrown in his last four games. No passer in franchise history has experienced this kind of streak in its first season.

Not even Joe Namath.

It’s absolutely a sign of progress, especially considering Wilson pitched four INTs in Week 2 and played nine to five games. The unease over whether the No. 2 overall pick could be a roll-prone passer who struggles to read defenses has started to fade – as Wilson’s confidence grows.

“Yeah, I think I’m just starting to get a better understanding of offense,” Wilson said after the Jets’ 28-24 loss to Tom Brady and Tampa Bay on Sunday. “I think Mike did an amazing job – LaFleur – just put me in a good position. I just feel comfortable with what’s going on.

Jets fans have been going through a vicious cycle for decades: the team is hiring a quarterback who is hailed as a savior of the franchise – the next Broadway Joe – followed by excitement and talk of limitless potential. And then it ends up turning into a broken promise, and the search is launched again.

Wilson is next in this long line, and it didn’t start well.

The former BYU star seemed to overthink it at times, trying to do too much while overcompensating for the lack of talent – largely due to injuries – around him. Then came a sprained ligament in his knee that put him on the sidelines for four games, and he saw Mike White, Josh Johnson and Joe Flacco effectively lead LaFleur’s offense.

It was kind of a plan. It showed Wilson that it could be done, and maybe even better at some point with his supreme athletic ability. He’s been told to play ‘boring’ football – take the games the defense has given him – and play ‘free’ – not to think too much, to let his instincts guide him.

Wilson has shown this over the past few weeks and his performance against the Buccaneers could have been his best all-around game as a pro. He was decisive, made easy throws, challenged the defense with deep throws, and made a few plays when it looked like there was nothing.

“Zach played a terrific game,” coach Robert Saleh said on Monday.

He finished 19 of 33 for 234 yards and a touchdown. No garish numbers, by any means. But again, that zero in the INT column jumps out. And Wilson shows enough at the end of his rookie season to keep the Jets and their fans excited – and for real this time around – about the future.

WHAT WORKS

The racing game. The Jets ran 150 yards against the Buccaneers, who came in third in defense against the run. It was the first time since 2016 that they had at least 150 yards on the ground in consecutive games. New York had 273 against Jacksonville last week.

Rookie Michael Carter has emerged as the main running back in a mixed backfield that includes Tevin Coleman, Ty Johnson, La’Mical Perine and Austin Walter. It also helped balance Wilson’s offense, which benefited from a more balanced offense.

WHAT NEEDS HELP

Communication. The Jets have a young squad, but also a young coaching staff. Saleh is a head coach for the first time and several of his assistants are occupying key positions for the first time in their careers. That includes LaFleur, whose poor communication with Wilson on the Jets’ fourth and second late-game Sunday calls intervened in the swing streak.

Saleh said the focus on it took him away from what he thought was an otherwise solid game on his side.

“To be overshadowed by something that like I said always starts with me – that’s what made me sick,” Saleh said. “I feel like we won this game. … We’ll be better off next time. It’s a positive thing, is that we will win games because of what happened yesterday.

STORE

Kenny Yeboah. Ole Miss’s undrafted free agent made the first two receptions of his NFL career, finishing with 26 receiving yards. He’s spent most of the first half of the season on the practice squad, but gets some late-season opportunities due to tight end injuries.

SOLD OUT

Denzel Mims. The wide receiver’s already tough second season NFL hit a new low when he didn’t play a single snap against Tampa Bay. The second-round pick was passed on the depth chart by less drafted players and undrafted free agents. He has only eight receptions this season, and none in his last four games.

INJURIES

Lt. George Fant gets a second opinion on his knee injury, but Saleh said the ACL was intact. … Carter remains in the concussion protocol. … TE Dan Brown is unlikely to play on Sunday after injuring his hip. … DE Bryce Huff suffers from an ankle injury.

KEY NUMBER

477 – The Jets have surrendered a record number of franchise points that exceed the 457 allowed last season. Improving defense will clearly be a major goal in free agency and in the offseason draft.

NEXT STEPS

The Jets end their season with a game against their rival AFC East Buffalo. The Bills’ top-ranked defense will provide a tough final test for Wilson as he wraps up his rookie season.

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