jets carolina week 1
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Sam Darnold and Robby Anderson’s touchdown connection was the top highlight of the Panthers’ Week 1 victory over the Jets.

Ryan Honey

It wasn’t a fantastic Week 1 performance for the Jets.

No, this wasn’t supposed to be the year of pure triumph. While the Jets are seemingly headed in the right direction, 2021 was always intended to be a developmental season for a team that could be successful in the near future.

But even still, Sunday afternoon’s game in Charlotte wasn’t entirely kind to New York.

In Zach Wilson‘s regular-season debut, the offense couldn’t produce enough and the offensive line primarily struggled during a 19-14 Jets road loss.

And a few familiar faces played huge roles.

The recently traded Sam Darnold and Robby Anderson, who the Jets let walk in the 2020 free agency period, connected on a 57-yard score in the second quarter that made it a 9-0 game (Panthers placekicker Ryan Santoso missed the ensuing extra-point attempt).

A Darnold-to-Anderson deep ball: something Jets fans have seen numerous times before, just never with the two players in non-Jets uniforms.

The Panthers followed that up with a Darnold touchdown run late in the first half. The fourth-year quarterback looked to throw prior to the tuck-and-run, and the Jets had next-to-no defenders nearby to prevent him from crossing the plane.

It’s another play Jets fans have seen Darnold make. Again, just not in another jersey.

The performance from Robert Saleh and Jeff Ulbrich’s defensive unit, at least in the first half, wasn’t perfect and the struggles played a role in the defeat.

However, it’s not just the defense that’s at fault.

The poor play from the offensive line was additionally a major factor…

A Ton of Pressure, Not a Ton of Time

This five-man unit did not show up in Charlotte — at all.

I understand the offensive line encompasses a number of young individuals, including the likes of second-year left tackle Mekhi Becton and rookie left guard Alijah Vera-Tucker.

I also understand it’s early, and this unit will need time to gel and build chemistry.

But if you’re a Jets fan, it was tough to watch the group operate on Sunday.

Not only did the offensive line allow six sacks, but for much of the day, Zach Wilson was running for his life. The rookie signal-caller didn’t have time to operate in the pocket and was forced to go off-script on various occasions.

And to add to the disaster, Becton was carted off the field with an apparent knee injury in the third quarter — it’s currently unclear the severity of the issue.

The Jets may need a replacement at left tackle (whether it be a short- or long-term reinforcement) and the unit must come together in order to make life easier for Wilson.

And speaking of the first-year quarterback…

Zach Wilson’s Up-and-Down Debut

It wasn’t all bad for the No. 2 overall draft pick.

But it wasn’t all good either.

Early in his inaugural NFL regular-season game, a poorly, underthrown ball led to an interception for Panthers outside linebacker Shaq Thompson. On the very next offensive drive for New York, on Wilson’s first throw following the interception, the young quarterback was nearly picked again by Thompson after avoiding the pressure.

These are growing pains for the first-round draft pick — mistakes are expected early on, especially when you deal with the troubling offensive line performance the Jets saw on Sunday.

But Wilson’s first-ever loss in the NFL did encompass his first two touchdown passes. On a third-quarter play, Zach escaped the pressure (which, again, was a common theme), rolled to his right, kept his eyes upfield, and found Corey Davis in the end zone.

Wilson then took a shotgun snap late in the game before quickly hitting Davis near the right side of the end zone for the team’s second of two touchdowns on the day.

Wilson and Davis developed a nice rapport during the preseason — the work to build a connection paid off Sunday afternoon, and the chemistry is expected to further grow as the season progresses.

But all in all, Wilson did what he could with minimal time to operate, finishing with 20 completions on 37 attempts for 258 yards, two touchdowns, and one pick. The Jets at least employ a quarterback who’s capable of extending plays outside of the pocket — let’s hope in the future he doesn’t need to escape pressure as much as he needed to in Week 1.