Jets' Zach Wilson benched late; Robert Saleh noncommittal on QB

ByRich Cimini ESPN logo
Monday, November 20, 2023

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- The New York Jets lost Aaron Rodgers to an Achilles injury against the Buffalo Bills in Week 1. In the rematch on Sunday, the Jets suffered a quarterback calamity of a different kind.

A woefully ineffective Zach Wilson was pulled with 2:17 remaining in the third quarter of the Jets' 32-6 loss at Highmark Stadium, setting up a possible quarterback change for their game on Friday against the visitingMiami Dolphins.

Afterward, coach Robert Saleh was noncommittal on Wilson -- a first for this season -- saying he will make a decision on Monday after watching the tape of New York's third straight loss. Saleh could turn to journeyman Tim Boyle, who replaced Wilson with the Jets down 29-6. Or he could promote veteran Trevor Siemian from the practice squad.

In a span of two months, the Jets (4-6) have gone from a ruptured tendon to a broken offense.

Saleh said he benched Wilson because of the lopsided score, hoping Boyle would provide a spark. But this wasn't an isolated performance by Wilson, who completed only 7 of 15 passes for 81 yards and a touchdown with an interception. The former No. 2 overall draft pick hasn't produced since replacing Rodgers in the season opener.

"Like I told Zach on the sideline, it's not just him," Saleh said. "It's easy to point the finger at the quarterback, but it's pretty easy to see. You've got missed protections, you've got dropped balls, you've got missed routes. Now, obviously, he has to get better. There are things he could've done a lot better, but it's everyone right now."

Ordinarily, the fate of a No. 2 quarterback isn't major news, but the Wilson situation could have far-reaching implications because the organization's plan is to have him succeed Rodgers in a year or two. If the Jets demote Wilson again -- he was benched twice last season as the QB1 -- it could mean the end for him in New York.

"Frustrated, but I get it," Wilson said of Sunday's benching. "[You] have to score, have to be in games. When it's consecutive games of just doing nothing on offense, you know you can sit here and say last week we moved the ball, but we're not scoring. It essentially comes down to you have to score. So when things aren't getting done, change has to be made, and I understand that."

Wilson said he didn't know his job status. Unlike last season, when he deflected blame in a postgame news conference that ultimately got him benched, he took the blame.

"We need to take accountability, and that starts with me -- and I'm not getting it done," said Wilson, who didn't complete a single pass to a wide receiver on Sunday.

The short week could have an impact on Saleh's decision. If he benches Wilson, then Boyle or Siemian wouldn't have the usual number of practice reps to prepare. Asked to assess Wilson's performance against the Bills, Saleh paused for a few moments.

"I don't think anyone did anything -- the players, coaches, schemes," the coach said. "It was obviously not good enough. None of it was good."

The Jets committed three turnovers on offense, allowed six sacks, produced only 155 total yards and went 0-for-11 on third down. At least they scored a touchdown (a 9-yard pass to running back Breece Hall), ending their TD drought at 40 consecutive drives and 12 quarters. The drive appeared dead, but Thomas Morstead tossed an 18-yard completion on a fake punt. If not for that, the Jets might have never reached the end zone.

For the season, the Jets (4-6) have nine offensive touchdowns in 10 games.

"It's bad everywhere, right?" New York tight end Tyler Conklin said.

During the run-up to the game, the Jets cut third-down back Michael Carter, held a players-only meeting for the offense and decided to move O-coordinator Nathaniel Hackett from the field to the booth. None of it worked.

Even wide receiver Garrett Wilson, one of their best players, had a rough game, losing a fumble (his second of the season) and dropping a pass. He finished with two catches for 9 yards.

"I have to play better," he said, his words barely audible. "I've got to do a better job of getting open because we're getting pressured. I have to get open faster, because when the ball does come my way, I have to catch it."

The normally stout defense suffered perhaps its worst game of the season, allowing Josh Allen to throw for 275 yards and three touchdowns.

Jets cornerback D.J. Reed said it's hard to win when all three phases aren't performing well together.

"For some reason, we haven't started off fast," said Reed, who wasn't blaming anyone in particular. "We can't wait to the end of the game and try to win heroically. We've won a few games like that, but that's not sustainable, in my opinion."

Zach Wilson could pay with his job. He is ranked 30th out of 31 quarterbacks in Total QBR (30.7), with six touchdown passes and seven interceptions. The offense is historically poor in several categories, including on third down and in the red zone.

"It felt like one of those games where we couldn't do anything," Wilson said. "It felt like one of those games. Everything felt really hard."

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