Zach Wilson’s time as the starter is over, at least temporarily.
The Jets have decided to bench the second-year quarterback after another lackluster performance in Sunday’s loss to New England. Wilson completed only 41% of his throws with just a 50.8 passer rating. For the season, he has a 55.6% completion rate (worst in the NFL per Next Gen Stats) and 72.6 rating (second-worst).
Head coach Robert Saleh was clearly impatient, which prompted the benching of Wilson in favor of Mike White, the primary backup and once-darling of New York football.
And it’s the absolute right decision.
Because this isn’t 2021 anymore. This isn’t Wilson’s rookie season and Saleh’s first year as head coach, when growing pains were imminent but accepted. The organization knew that season wasn’t going to be one for victories, but progress toward the ultimate goal of building a winning franchise.
This is now 2022: the second year of the Wilson-Saleh era and the fourth of Joe Douglas’ tenure as general manager. An improved roster is in place thanks to various free agency and draft moves. Contending for the playoffs is not the dream, but the expectation.
And even with a solid foundation of offensive weapons and a stellar defense that’s made a major turnaround since last year, the Jets are only 6-4 and in the basement of the AFC East. Because Wilson is holding them back.
The Jets didn’t lose 10-3 to the Patriots because they allowed a game-winning punt return in the waning seconds. They lost because Wilson and the Mike LaFleur-coordinated offense gained only two yards in the second half.
The team didn’t lose to the Pats in Week 8 because a John Franklin-Myers’ roughing the passer penalty negated a pick-six either. They lost because Wilson threw three interceptions and looked much like his mistake-prone rookie self.
It’s not just how Wilson plays in the losses either — he’s hardly the main reason the Jets win games.
In the team’s five wins with Wilson under center this season, the young passer has thrown two touchdowns, two picks, and has been sacked 10 times. While his completion percentage and rating are a little better than average, they’re still only 60.32% and 79.0, respectively. Wilson is also only averaging 169.4 passing yards on 25.2 attempts in victories.
Across the five wins, the passing game has accounted for only 51.2% of the Jets’ total yards. Take out the Week 4 win over the Steelers when the team threw for 250 net yards, and the passing game has accounted for just 45% of total yards.
Significant discrepancies include the Week 6 win over Green Bay (99 passing yards, 179 rushing yards), Week 7 win over Denver (105 passing yards, 155 rushing yards), and Week 9 win over Buffalo (136 passing yards, 174 rushing yards).
In a league that is dominated through the air, Wilson can’t even keep up with his team’s own rushing attack.
And then there are the locker room issues, which Wilson put on himself when telling the media he didn’t think he let the defense down against the Patriots (despite the offense scoring only three points).
Saleh believes Wilson hasn’t lost the locker room because of the comments, and it’s possible the head coach is right. But you can’t tell me there aren’t defensive players who weren’t offended by that comment. You can’t tell me a defensive unit that was on the field for 35.5 minutes and 59 plays in cold Foxborough just ignored Wilson’s comments. You can’t tell me the offensive linemen and receivers who deserve better weren’t taken aback by the comments, either.
Overall, Wilson is not in good standing right now. Whether this is going to be a long-term move or just temporary, benching the kid needed to happen. The coddling had to conclude and Wilson had to take a step back.
Now, time will tell if this actually helps the former No. 2 overall draft pick.