The switch seemed to flip for Zach Wilson against an unlikely opponent.
With the New York Jets considered heavy underdogs against the Kansas City Chiefs three weeks ago, Wilson had arguably the best performance of his career.
Confidence and clutch playmaking were on display in what would end up as a loss on the field — but a victory for a young quarterback who consistently struggled in his first two-plus seasons. Wilson has since continued to be mostly solid for the Jets, who are opening the playbook and showing increased belief in him.
“That trust level started with that Kansas City game,” coach Robert Saleh said Monday. “From a game-planning standpoint, it’s been an open book with him starting with the Kansas City game where it was, ‘all right, let’s see what he’s got.’ And now he’s proven it week in and week out and he’s doing a really nice job.”
Saleh acknowledged that defenses will dictate what the offense can accomplish — or can't — in a given game.
“But as far as game planning and trying to figure (things) out, we’re not trying to hide Zach at all,” Saleh said. “We’re letting him play football and the play designs and the game plan is one that is for a quarterback we trust.”
Wilson was 28 of 39 for 245 yards and two touchdowns with no turnovers in that 23-20 loss to the Chiefs. He went 19 of 26 for 199 yards with no TDs and an interception in a 31-21 win at Denver, then followed that up by going 19 of 33 for 186 yards without a TD or turnover in a 20-14 victory over previously undefeated Philadelphia.
They aren't eye-popping numbers, by any means. And Wilson isn't the main reason the Jets won two in a row before going into their bye last week.
But Wilson also has not been the cause of any losses lately.
“He just got better,” running back Breece Hall said. “It's just the team and everybody being confident in him and letting him know we believe in him.”
That's a significant step, one the Jets hope continues Sunday when they take on the Giants.
“When the whole world is coming down on you, you’re naturally going to defend yourself,” Saleh said. "The difference between last year and this year, it’s a lot of things that you guys don’t see because you guys aren’t at practice. His execution at practice is so much better than it was at this time a year ago.
"I think he knows he can play this game and he’s got inner confidence with himself first.”
That might not have been the case always, especially after he was benched twice last season and rubbed some of his teammates the wrong way for not taking responsibility for a particularly tough loss to New England.
Wilson took a backseat this offseason to Aaron Rodgers, who came to the Jets as what many considered the missing piece to a return to the playoffs — and perhaps far beyond — after a 12-year drought.
When Rodgers went down with a torn left Achilles tendon four plays into his debut, the fear was the postseason hopes went with him.
But backed by what has been a strong defense and Wilson's improved play, the Jets' playoff hopes don't appear so grim.
New York still needs to improve greatly in several areas of offense, though, and Wilson has said that starts with him. The Jets' 25% third-down conversion rate ranks last in the NFL. So does their 29.4% efficiency in the red zone.
But belief in their quarterback has risen drastically. And that bodes well for Wilson.
“I think he feels that this organization is behind him,” Saleh said. "I think he feels that the locker room is behind him. I think he feels that the coaching staff is behind him. And on top of it, I think he sees he’s practicing really well and his teammates see that he’s practicing well. Then you get to game day and I think everyone sees that he’s gotten a lot better.
“He still has a long way to go. He incrementally is getting better. ... I think it’s very easy for a person to be able to take accountability when you know you got people that have your back.”
NOTES: Saleh said CBs Sauce Gardner and D.J. Reed remain in the concussion protocol. ... LT Duane Brown is eligible to return from IR this week, but Saleh said the team will see how he feels before making a decision. ... Hall tweeted that Monday marked a year since he found out he tore the ACL in his left knee. “It's been a crazy year,” he said. “A lot of ups and downs, frustrations, tears, everything. Just stayed prayed up throughout the whole process, worked my tail off and I'm here today.”
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