Zach Wilson Jets
Brad Penner | USA TODAY Sports

The most telling moment of Zach Wilson’s miserable Sunday in Foxborough was not a bad throw or a missed receiver or his petulant press conference. The embattled Jets quarterback was not even on the field when it happened, in fact. Which is the point.

The Patriots had a fourth-and-3 from the Jets’ 36-yard line with a few seconds left in the third quarter, game tied at 3. To be clear, the analytics undoubtedly informed coach Bill Belichick to go for it. There were also more traditional tactical reasons — kicker Nick Folk had already missed two field goal attempts and there was no guarantee a punt would gain much territory.

That said, Belichick sent a clear message when he left his offense on the field: If we don’t get it, no worries. Because the guy across the way sure as hell will not make us regret it.

The Patriots did not fear Wilson. They did not respect him. And they were right. The Jets’ defense held. Turnover on downs. And then Wilson and the offense lost 11 yards on three plays before punting it back. That sequence is a microcosm of where the Jets stand right now. And why Wilson’s career here is on the line over the next two months.

This Jets season has been a happy accident. General manager Joe Douglas and coach Robert Saleh have built a championship-caliber roster faster than anyone could have anticipated. But the one thing holding them back is also the most important thing.

It is not all Wilson’s fault. He has battled injuries, the offensive line has experienced tumult and he really misses Breece Hall. But none of that matters now. The Jets are ready to win and they need Wilson to get with the program. Or get out.

It still seems unlikely Wilson will get benched for Sunday’s game against the Bears. The fact Saleh got tongue-tied when asked one of the obvious follow-up questions — Joe Flacco or Mike White — betrayed the bluster a bit. But make no mistake: The coach’s comments were the first — and likely only — brushback pitch Wilson is going to receive. That was his warning. If he does not heed it, there will be consequences.

The fact the rest of the roster has raced past Wilson in its progression is a key source of strength for Douglas and Saleh. They really cannot lose here. If Wilson figures it out and shows enough promise to move forward into 2023, all is well. If he does not, they turn to Flacco or White and attempt to salvage this playoff run. And then they go to owner Woody Johnson with a pretty compelling argument: Yes, we got the quarterback wrong. But we clearly got everything else right. So now we fix the mistake and never look back.

Jimmy Garappolo is going to be a free agent. Derek Carr and Aaron Rodgers may be available in a trade. Heck, imagine what Daniel Jones might be able to do with Garrett Wilson and Hall. The Jets will have options available to them. And they will have an asset in Wilson. A distressed one, sure, but enough of one to flip the contract elsewhere and get something in return.

This does not feel like a situation where the Jets ignore the results, current and future, and roll with Wilson for a third year out of blind faith. Or one where a veteran comes in to push him in training camp. It is going to be all or nothing. Because the Jets know they have everything else but the quarterback right now. Wilson either proves he is or is not. We certainly know what Belichick thinks.

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James Kratch can be reached at

James Kratch is the managing editor of ESNY. He previously worked as a Rutgers and Giants (and Mike Francesa) beat reporter for NJ Advance Media.