EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ – Embattled New York Jets quarterback Zach Wilson played the best game of his NFL career Sunday night at MetLife Stadium but lamented the missed snap.
Wilson fumbled a shotgun snap at midfield with 7:24 left in the fourth quarter, the Jets’ final play of their 23-20 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. Wilson then spoke briefly to the entire team in the locker room and took responsibility for the loss.
“To go straight there and take a snapshot – I can’t do that,” Wilson told reporters. “I lost that game against us and I can’t do that.”
Several teammates consoled Wilson, whose gaffe came at a critical time — a three-point deficit late — against the reigning Super Bowl champions. Still, his overall performance was a breakthrough that could have saved his job.
After a week of intense scrutiny, including criticism from Jets legend Joe Namath, Wilson completed a career-high 28 passes on 39 attempts for 245 yards and two touchdowns. He posted a passer rating of 105.2, the highest of his career. The Jets (1-3) lost for the third straight season, but Wilson’s efficiency was the spark they needed after losing Aaron Rodgers in Week 1 to a season-ending Achilles tendon injury.
“If he plays like that, we’re going to win a lot of football games,” coach Robert Saleh said of Wilson, whose serious issues in recent days have caused tension in the locker room, sources said.
According to several players, the situation prompted Rodgers, who returned to the team Saturday after two weeks of rehab in California, to give an impassioned speech to the team Saturday night. His message: stick together, they said.
“It’s always exciting to see big brother,” Wilson said.
Rodgers watched from a private box on crutches as his protégé rallied the Jets from a 17-0 deficit with touchdown passes to tight end CJ Uzomah (1 yard) and wide receiver Allen Lazard (10 yards).
The Lazard score, followed by a nifty two-point run from Wilson, made the score 20-20 with 10:40 left in the third quarter. It culminated in a flawless drive in which Wilson went 5-for-5 for 75 yards and looked nothing like the quarterback who was so ineffective in losses to the Dallas Cowboys and New England Patriots.
Offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett, who has been conservative in recent weeks, talked about an aggressive game and relied on Wilson instead of the running game. Encouraged by the show of confidence, Wilson – who was drafted No. 2 overall in 2021 – played with more determination than in any previous start.
“I’m just really happy for him to go out and show that he belongs, that he can play in this league,” Saleh said.
Wilson completed passes to 10 different receivers. Before Sunday, he had three games in his career in which he failed a total of ten passes.
“I think Hack and I are becoming more confident in each other and our ability to attack,” Wilson said.
The Jets had a chance to pull off a stunning upset. In a tied game, they got the ball back and took the lead midway through the fourth quarter. But on a second-and-9 from the Chiefs’ 49er, Wilson dropped an easy shotgun snap that was recovered by defensive tackle Tershawn Wharton.
Out of the corner of his eye, Wilson saw an unblocked player to his left ready to blitz. He said he had doubts about himself for not changing the protection. That was his first mistake, he said. Then he drifted a little, expecting a backside rush – and simply dropped the ball.
“I made it clear to these guys that I need to get better,” he said of his teammates. “I have to get better at the little things and details. This shouldn’t happen.”
After Saleh spoke to the team in the locker room, Wilson felt the urge to say something in front of the group. The fact that he spoke up and showed responsibility was significant. A year ago, he sparked a firestorm when he refused to take any blame in a postgame press conference after a terrible performance in the loss to the Patriots.
“Zach is a big competitor, and after the game he talked to the team and tried to take the blame for everything,” Lazard said. “That’s just the competitor in him and the leader that he is. I just consoled him and said, ‘Hey, we all made mistakes today. You weren’t the only one.’”
The Jets almost had another chance to pull out a win, but an apparent interception by Michael Carter II was negated by defensive holding by cornerback Sauce Gardner. Saleh argued and was later penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct. He declined to comment.
Gardner objected to the call, which allowed the Chiefs to run out the clock.
“For me personally, it’s like basketball one-on-one, and you go up, put the ball up, then wait to see if you miss it and then say ‘foul,'” Gardner said. “I can not believe that. That was just crazy.”
“It’s really frustrating, I’m not going to lie,” he continued. “He didn’t throw the flag until MC picked up the ball. That’s not how you do it. I haven’t been in the league long, but that’s not how you do it. I didn’t hold him.” End. I didn’t hold him from the start.
Without the penalty, the Jets would have had the ball at their 32 with 4:19 to play. Saleh said he was confident Wilson led them to a score.