Jets are exceeding expectations with Zach Wilson exception

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Back in April, I tried to outline what a successful 2022 Jets season would look like. Some of it has worked out, some of it has not.

First, let’s start with where I missed. My premise was the Jets would not make the playoffs but that success this season should not be judged simply by whether or not they made the postseason. Clearly, the Jets are much better than I expected and a playoff berth is a very real possibility now. It will be a disappointment if they fail to reach the postseason at this point.

But back in April, I believed that the Jets did not have a realistic shot at the playoffs. I came up with three ways this season could be viewed as a success. Let’s revisit them and evaluate how the Jets have fared.

1. Homecoming is over

This was based on Patriots great Richard Seymour calling the Jets New England’s “homecoming” game last year and the Patriots backing up his talk with a 54-13 win. The Jets then got blown out by the Bills 45-17 at home a few weeks later. It continued a trend from recent years in which the Jets would get their doors blown off routinely in games.

The Jets have stopped that dubious run. Their largest margin of defeat this season is 15 points, which happened twice — against the Ravens and Bengals. The Jets have been in every game this season, and they have had chances to win in the fourth quarter even when they fell short.

The addition of talented rookies such as Garrett Wilson has given the Jets the ability to keep games within reach, no matter the opponent.
Getty Images

The best example of this was on Sunday. The Jets fell behind 20-3 against the Vikings, but then battled back to make it 27-22 in the fourth quarter, twice getting the ball inside the 20 with a chance to take the lead.

Yes, they failed to reach the end zone and ultimately lost, but it still felt like a huge step forward. The Jets were competitive against a good team on the road and did not let the game get away from them when they could have. In the past, a 20-3 lead would have turned into a 41-10 result.

These Jets have shown they can compete with anyone and the game is never over despite what the score is early.

2. Zach needs to take a big step forward

OK, well, this one could not look worse right now.

My thought in April was the Jets needed to see a jump from quarterback Zach Wilson in Year 2 in order to know he was the guy entering the 2023 season, when I figured the Jets would be in contention.

What I wrote then: “The selection of Wilson last year at No. 2 overall is the most significant decision Douglas has made as GM. It needs to feel like the right one by the end of 2022.”

Zach Wilson looks on at Jets practice on Thursday.
Zach Wilson’s potential future as the Jets’ quarterback may be determined by how well Mike White plays.
Bill Kostroun

Well …

The season started terribly for Wilson and only got worse. He suffered a knee injury in the preseason and missed the first three games of the regular season. When he returned, he did not show signs of progress from last year. He threw just four touchdowns and five interceptions in seven games. The Jets found ways to win around Wilson, but Robert Saleh opted to bench him after a terrible game in New England, which was followed by a terrible press conference.

Now, Wilson remains on the bench and it feels as if Mike White is more likely the franchise quarterback for the Jets than Wilson.

The Jets team arrived ahead of schedule this season, and in the process, they left Wilson behind. I think if you asked people inside the Jets before the season began, they would have said this season was about growing and taking a step forward for a young team, but 2023 was the year they thought they would push for the playoffs. But the defense arrived this year, and some of the rookies have shown they did not need the usual time to learn. Meanwhile, Wilson still needs time to develop, if he is going to.

Who knows how it will play out this offseason? Much of it depends on how White plays down the stretch. If White plays well and leads the Jets to the playoffs, he has to be the guy in 2023. If he is mediocre or stumbles, the door opens again for Wilson.

Either way, Wilson is off the track the Jets expected him to be on at this point. This one is a big failure for the team.

3. Be in the graphic

C.J. Mosley #57 of the New York Jets hits James Cook #28 of the Buffalo Bills at MetLife Stadium on November 06, 2022 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. The Jets defeated the Bills 20-17.
Thanks in part to wins over the Bills and Dolphins, the Jets are in contention for a wild-card spot with five games to play.
Getty Images

This is one the Jets knocked out of the park.

What we were talking about is the playoff graphic that networks show at this time of the year with the postseason picture. The division leaders are on the left, wild-card teams are in the middle and the “in the hunt” teams are on the right. I set the goal of the Jets being “in the hunt” come December. They have beaten that mark. The Jets are one of the wild-card leaders as the current No. 7 seed and have a prominent place in the graphic.

It has been years since the Jets have been a contending team this late in the season. You have to go back to 2015. Just being in the playoff hunt is a major achievement for this franchise.

Looking at where I set the bar in April, the Jets have cleared it by a lot. Yes, Wilson’s regression is not a good development for them, but nearly everything else has looked great. The Jets have a good, young core that has shown up a year earlier than expected, a reality that might see the franchise playing in the postseason for the first time since 2010. When you look at it in totality, the Jets already have had a successful season. Now they just need to finish it off.

According to plan

The Jets stuck to their defensive principles against Vikings star receiver Justin Jefferson on Sunday and did not “travel” a cornerback with him. This is Robert Saleh’s philosophy, and it goes back to the great Seahawks teams of a decade ago.

Unlike Rex Ryan’s Jets, who had Darrelle Revis follow the opponent’s best wide receiver all over the field, the Seattle system plays sides. If you are on the left, you stay there no matter who is lined up against you. This was always one of Revis’ criticisms of Richard Sherman back when they were rivals for the title of best cornerback in football. Revis traveled; Sherman didn’t.

Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson (18) cant quite get to a pass from quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) as New York Jets cornerback D.J. Reed (4) defends during the second quarter of an NFL football game at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minn. on Sunday, Dec. 4, 2022. The Vikings beat the Jets, 27-22.
Though Justin Jefferson did score a touchdown on Sunday, D.J. Reed and the Jets held the explosive Vikings receiver to only 45 yards receiving.
MediaNews Group via Getty Images

Against the Vikings, the Jets held Jefferson to 45 yards with a combination of D.J. Reed, Sauce Gardner, Michael Carter II and a few others. It was notable that Jefferson scored his only touchdown against Reed when Reed was playing on the defensive left, where Gardner usually lines up. The Jets flipped in the red zone to have Gardner on the short side of the field because that is where the Vikings like to throw jump balls. They wanted the bigger Gardner on that side to defend them.

Through two years, you can’t really argue with the results. There are not many receivers who have had big days against the Jets. The one exception is Stefon Diggs, who had 162 yards receiving for the Bills at MetLife last season. This season, there have been three wide receivers (not including tight ends) who topped 100 yards against the Jets, and they all did it early in the season — the Browns’ Amari Cooper in Week 2, the Bengals’ Tyler Boyd in Week 3 and the Steelers’ George Pickens in Week 4.

Jets fans may yearn for the days of Revis and want to see Gardner cover the best receiver each week, but you can’t argue with the results of what the Jets are doing.

Stat’s so

Garrett Wilson needs just 55 receiving yards to set a new Jets rookie record for a season. He currently trails Keyshawn Johnson, who had 844 yards in 1996. Here are the top 10 rookie receiving seasons in Jets history:

New York Jets Keyshawn Johnson on Sept. 28, 1997 at Cinergy Field in Cincinnati.
Keyshawn Johnson’s record for receiving yards by a Jets rookie will be surpassed by Garrett Wilson once he adds on another 55 yards to his total for the season.
Sporting News via Getty Images

1. Keyshawn Johnson (1996): 844 yards, 63 rec., 8 TDs
2. Garrett Wilson (2022): 790 yards, 57 rec., 4 TDs
3. Wesley Walker (1977): 740 yards, 35 rec., 3 TDs
4. Wayne Chrebet (1995): 726 yards, 66 rec., 4 TDs
5. Rob Moore (1990): 692 yards, 44 rec., 6 TDs
6. Derrick Gaffney: (1978) 691 yards, 38 rec., 3 TDs
7. Al Toon (1985): 662 yards, 46 rec., 3 TDs
8. Robbie Anderson (2016): 587 yards, 42 rec., 2 TDs
9. Pete Lammons (1966): 565 yards, 41 rec., 4 TDs
10. Elijah Moore (2021): 538 yards, 43 rec., 5 TDs

Source: Stathead

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