NEW YORK (AP) — Zach Wilson got to immediately experience life in the NFL: big plays mixed with bad mistakes and some frustrating losses.
A knee injury then forced the New York Jets rookie quarterback to sit a few games — and watch how things might be for him when he returns.
“It’s just a matter of absorbing that information and being confident because the good thing with Zach is that we don’t have to teach him how to do the spectacular,” coach Robert Saleh said. “He just has to learn how to do the boring stuff and understand that the boring can be explosive, and can be spectacular, too.”
When everyone last saw Wilson on the field, the Jets' offense was a mess. It was stuck in neutral and often rolling backward. In the two games since, Mike LaFleur's offense has taken off.
First, it was Mike White tossing short passes all over the field to finish with 405 yards and three touchdowns in a victory over Cincinnati in his first NFL start. The performance made him a sensation around the league and landed his jersey and the game ball in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Then it was 35-year-old career backup Josh Johnson setting personal bests with 317 yards passing and three TDs in a loss to Indianapolis after taking over for the injured White.
All with Wilson watching — and, the 2-6 Jets hope, seeing the blueprint for his own potential success.
“What I think is even more beneficial is he ran the offense for six games,” Saleh said. "And then to watch it the last two games, absolutely. ... And so for him to see it through the lens of another quarterback is it is incredibly beneficial, especially since he’s already exposed himself to it.”
The Jets drafted Wilson with the No. 2 overall pick for a reason. They see the potential in his playmaking skills, combined with his arm strength and ability to make throws at various angles.
Wilson is expected to return to practice next week from his sprained posterior collateral ligament, and could potentially play against Buffalo on Nov. 14. White should also be able to practice after dealing with a bruised nerve in his right forearm. Saleh wants to see how they both feel and practice before making a decision.
Wilson remains the future for a franchise that has been searching for a consistent winner at quarterback since the days of Joe Namath. Even if the present remains a bit cloudy.
“He's a young buck and he's one of those rookies that thinks they're invincible,” Saleh said. “And he's only going to get better as he learns.”
The offense. LaFleur was heavily criticized as New York failed to score in the first quarter in its first six games, and was severely outmatched in the first half of games. The first-year coordinator has found some redemption the past two games with the Jets scoring 64 points and rolling up 997 yards — without Wilson under center.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
The defense. It has suddenly — and unexpectedly — gotten ugly. Early on, the defense kept the team in games while the offense struggled mightily. Things have flipped lately with coordinator Jeff Ulbrich's unit getting dragged all over the field. The Jets have given up more than 500 total yards in each of their last two games.
Elijah Moore. The second-round pick was a star of the offseason, but a quadriceps injury in training camp kept him out of the preseason games. He was slow to make an impact when the regular season began, with questions whether his development as a slot receiver was being hindered by veteran Jamison Crowder's presence. Moore has been a huge bright spot lately with 13 catches for 151 yards and his first two NFL TD receptions.
Defensive line. The big men up front were expected to be the undisputed strength of the team, even with Carl Lawson lost for the season during training camp with a knee injury. The D-line was strong through the first few games and had seven sacks in a win over Tennessee. The Jets have just five in the four games since. They also can't consistently stop the run, with the 260 yards allowed by Indianapolis the most on the ground by any team this season.
Wilson's knee injury has gotten the most attention, but the Jets have had several other key losses. Starting safeties Marcus Maye (Achilles tendon) and Lamarcus Joyner (triceps) are out for the year. Lawson's knee injury during camp was crucial as he was brought in to jumpstart the pass rush. Left tackle Mekhi Becton (knee) was hurt in the season opener and is still a few weeks from returning.
463 — That's the average total yards the Jets have allowed over their last four games, and that includes a solid performance (318) in a win over Cincinnati.
It remains to be seen when Wilson will return, and the Jets need to get better defensively in a hurry with their home game against Buffalo next. But the schedule softens a bit after that with consecutive games against Miami (1-7), Houston (1-7) and Philadelphia (3-5).
More AP NFL coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL