Jets' Robert Saleh: Zach Wilson to be No. 2 QB for Lions game

ByRich Cimini ESPN logo
Wednesday, December 14, 2022

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Former New York Jets starter Zach Wilson moved one step closer to playing again, as he was elevated Wednesday to No. 2 quarterback after three weeks of being inactive.

And he hopes to continue his rebound, saying he still sees himself as the Jets' future.

"Yeah, I definitely believe in myself," Wilson said. "Of course, I have all the confidence in the world -- I think that's how it should be -- but you have to be able to prove that."

Wilson, benched Nov. 23 in favor of Mike White, will replace Joe Flacco as the No. 2 quarterback for Sunday's pivotal game against the Detroit Lions at MetLife Stadium.

The decision by coach Robert Saleh, which he announced Wednesday, is significant because White is dealing with a rib injury. He is expected to start the game, Saleh said, although his practice time Wednesday was limited. The Jets haven't disclosed the exact nature of the injury.

White's injury, coupled with Flacco's ineffective relief outing Sunday in a 20-12 loss to the Buffalo Bills, seems to have opened the door for Wilson's elevation, although Saleh called it "a coincidence."

Wilson, drafted No. 2 in 2021, spent the past three weeks as the scout-team quarterback during the week and inactive on Sundays. The Jets called the benching a "reset," saying they wanted him to sharpen his fundamentals without having the pressure of having to prepare for an opponent.

"The biggest thing for me mentally was finding the fun in football," Wilson said. "I love this game. It definitely wasn't lost, but I think you guys felt the frustration over some of those rough games."

Saleh, who has maintained that he'd like to get Wilson back in the lineup at some point, praised his approach since the benching.

"Zach's been doing a great job," Saleh said. "He's been deliberate in his approach over the last three weeks. He's been holding himself accountable with regards to how he wants to attack practice, how he's been performing in practice, going against our defense, which I think is a pretty good defense to go against. He's been working on all the different things that we've been asking him to accomplish."

Wilson's window is closing. In all likelihood, the Jets (7-6) will continue with White unless they fall out of contention. Saleh said he's taking it week by week. Wilson said he hopes to play but said it's out of his control.

White is only 1-2 as the starter, but the offense is averaging 420 yards and 22 points per game with him at quarterback. It has averaged only 287 yards and 21 points with Wilson, who has won five out of seven starts.

"He's a very talented young man -- a very talented young man," Saleh said of Wilson. "We're in the business of developing guys, and I've said it before: This is Mike White's opportunity, and he's attacking the heck out of the opportunity. He's doing great with it.

"But at the same time, we've got to make sure we do everything we can to develop Zach to a spot we know he's capable of getting to."

Wilson said it was "frustrating" to not be in uniform, adding, "You could sit there and be pissed off" -- but he tried to make it a positive. He also praised White, who has galvanized the locker room.

"He's done a great job of being decisive, getting the ball out of his hands and being accurate," Wilson said. "So, there's been a lot of cool learning experiences over the last couple of weeks."

White was battered by the Bills' pass rush, which forced him out of the game on two occasions. Flacco came off the bench for a total of seven snaps, and it wasn't pretty. He lost a fumble on a strip sack and completed only one of three passes for 1 yard.

White, after a medical evaluation that included X-rays, finished the game. Afterward, he was taken by ambulance to a Buffalo-area hospital for precautionary tests. On Monday, he told reporters he felt good enough to start against the Lions.

"We're still working as if he's playing this week," Saleh said Wednesday.

For Flacco, 37, a past Super Bowl MVP with the Baltimore Ravens, this marks the second time this season he's been demoted to third string. It also happened in October, when the Jets decided to make White the QB2 behind Wilson.

This has been a weird year for Flacco, who started the first three games (1-2) while Wilson recovered from preseason knee surgery.

Wilson was benched after a 77-yard passing performance in a 10-3 loss to the New England Patriots, a game in which he completed only nine of 22 passes.

He created a firestorm in his postgame news conference, refusing to take accountability for the poor performance by the offense. That angered some players, sources said, and probably factored in Saleh's decision to sit him down. A few days later, Wilson apologized for his postgame comments.

In other injury developments, the Jets could be without star defensive tackle Quinnen Williams (calf), who didn't practice and is still considered 50-50 to play, Saleh said. Wide receiver Corey Davis (concussion) also didn't practice, but he's "on target" to play Sunday, Saleh said.

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