NEW YORK (AP) — OK, Zach Wilson, you’re up.
With Aaron Rodgers out for the rest of the season with a torn left Achilles tendon, Wilson takes over as the New York Jets’ starting quarterback.
“We’ve got a lot of faith in Zach,” coach Robert Saleh said during a video call Tuesday. “We’re really excited about his opportunity, but we’re rolling with Zach and excited for this and excited for him.”
The No. 2 overall pick in the 2021 draft struggled mightily through his first two NFL seasons, and welcomed the opportunity to work with Rodgers — one of his childhood idols — and watch the four-time NFL MVP operate.
That sideline sabbatical lasted just four plays.
Rodgers was injured when he was sacked on the first drive of the Jets’ 22-16 overtime victory over Buffalo on Monday night. An MRI on Tuesday confirmed what New York initially feared, and the Jets placed Rodgers on injured reserve.
The Jets will look into adding a veteran backup over the next few days since the only other quarterback on the roster is Tim Boyle, who’s being promoted from the practice squad.
But the job for the foreseeable future is Wilson’s, starting Sunday at Dallas.
Wilson was shaky when he came in to replace Rodgers, finishing 14 of 21 for 140 yards with a touchdown to Garrett Wilson and an interception. He was able to make a few plays on the run and completed some short tosses — something with which he had trouble the past two seasons.
He’ll really have to take another big step, though, to prove he’s truly improved from the player that was benched twice last season and needed a mental and physical reset.
“Everything about him is just so much different than a year ago,” Saleh said. “It’s happening faster than I think anyone expected, obviously, under the circumstances. But he’s somebody that’s made a drastic improvement from a year ago.”
Wilson won’t need to be perfect this season. He has a dominant defense to back the offense, and a running game that includes a healthy Breece Hall — who ran for 127 yards on 10 carries, just 11 months removed from a torn ACL — and recently signed Dalvin Cook, who had 33 yards on 13 attempts.
Garrett Wilson’s encore after winning the AP Offensive Rookie of the Year award began with him making an acrobatic, juggling TD catch against the Bills.
So the supporting cast is there. It’s on Zach Wilson now to make it all work — and help the Jets snap the 12-year postseason drought that seemed all but history with Rodgers in charge.
“I don’t know why people are trying to put an obituary to our team name,” Saleh said. “There’s still a lot of faith in the locker room in the things that we can still accomplish this year. So while the outside world can go ahead and write whatever story they want to write, there’s still the true story being written in this building.”
Defense. The Jets forced four turnovers of Josh Allen — including three interceptions by Jordan Whitehead — and held the high-scoring Bills to just three points after halftime. New York also had nine quarterback hits and sacked Allen five times, including two by Quinton Jefferson. It was a dominant performance by a defense that last week said it could be one of the league’s greatest if it played to its potential. This was a good start.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
Jets fans. After an offseason of hope and excitement because of Rodgers’ arrival, the frustrated fanbase couldn’t even enjoy what turned out to be a stunning victory. They have waited since 1969 for another Super Bowl trip and it appears that drought could continue another year.
WR Xavier Gipson. The undrafted rookie from Stephen F. Austin made the team out of training camp and was featured during the Jets’ appearance this summer on HBO’s “Hard Knocks.” He delivered what will likely be remembered as an all-time Jets moment, returning a punt 65 yards — making several nice moves to elude would-be tacklers — for a touchdown to win it in overtime. It was also the third punt return for a TD in overtime in NFL history.
WR Mecole Hardman. He was signed as a free agent in the offseason to add a speedy and versatile presence to the offense, but the former Kansas City wide receiver was a non-factor in his Jets debut. He played no snaps on offense and just one on special teams.
Other than Rodgers, the Jets came out of the game without any other significant injuries.
10 — After trailing 13-3 after two quarters, the victory marked the first time since Week 14 of the 2016 season against San Francisco (23-17 in OT) that the Jets erased a halftime deficit of 10 or more points.
It’s time to regroup, and quickly. The Jets have to get Wilson prepared on a short week to face the Cowboys on Sunday. They can’t allow Rodgers’ potentially deflating injury to carry into the rest of the season.
When asked what his overall message to the fan base was, Saleh grinned and said: “We’re on to Dallas.”
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