EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- After every game, win or lose, Zach Wilson ventures over to the defensive side of the New York Jets' locker room, where he checks in with the guys on the other side of the ball -- a veteran move by the rookie quarterback. On Sunday, he delivered a mea culpa.
"I have to do better," Wilson told them, according to linebacker C.J. Mosley.
Wilson's message was well received, one of the few times all day he made a short-area connection.
It wasn't a good day for the Jets' hope for the future, who completed a season-low 45% of his passes in a 30-9 loss to the New Orleans Saints at MetLife Stadium. It was a tough spot, no doubt. Wilson didn't have his top four playmakers, all injured, but that was no excuse for his accuracy issues, especially on short throws.
It might be unfair to expect him to lift a franchise from the depths of losing, but it's not asking too much to hit a 2-yard pass to a wide-open Ryan Griffin or a bubble screen to wide receiver Braxton Berrios, both of which had a 93% completion probability. Wilson wound up short-hopping both passes, like a second baseman bouncing a throw to first base.
That's the concern with Wilson. He can make some throws that only a few quarterbacks can pull off, but he's stunningly inaccurate on gimmes. He was all over the place, completing only 19 of 42 passes, including just 16-for-29 inside 10 yards. This wasn't a one-day deal; it's a season-long trend. He finished with a season-high 13 off-target passes, per NFL Next Gen Stats, meaning one of every three attempts was deemed off the mark.
"It’s something he has to improve on -- I’m not going to hide from that -- but it’s not something that we're concerned about," coach Robert Saleh said. "[It's] just something that we have to keep working on."
Wilson should be graded on a curve for Sunday because not only were top receivers Elijah Moore and Corey Davis out with injuries, but the B-team also did him no favors. Backup running back Ty Johnson dropped three passes in the first quarter, the first Jets player since Jerricho Cotchery in 2007 to have three drops in a game.
Outside receivers Keelan Cole and Denzel Mims struggled to gain consistent separation against the Saints' man-to-man coverage. Heck, Mims didn't even know where to line up, drawing an illegal-formation penalty that drew Saleh's wrath. Mims, who committed penalties on back-to-back plays, was benched for the rest of the game.
So, yeah, Wilson didn't have much support, but it's a two-way street. At the same time, he didn't raise the play of those around him, failing to build on last week's encouraging outing against the Philadelphia Eagles. The only silver lining was that he made it through the entire game without an interception -- a first.
"Yeah, I worked on it a lot and that’s why I was frustrated, I think, missing some easy ones," said Wilson, who finished with 202 yards after having only 86 after three quarters. "That’s never been an issue for me, obviously, and I think part of it’s going to be just getting used to this NFL game. Probably some of the routes that we’re doing I didn’t do a lot in college. That’s not making an excuse at all, but I’ve got to get better at being able to get those guys a nice, accurate ball over the line. ... It’s frustrating when I didn’t hit on some of those."
Since returning from his knee injury, Wilson has been down, up and down over the last three games. The downs were really down, and the up was 30 minutes of efficient football. The former BYU star has a long way to go, and he'd better get there because the Jets' entire rebuilding plan hinges on his development.
Saleh stands up in front of the media every week, selling the future as the losses pile up. There's no future without Wilson.
"Does it suck right now? Sure, I feel you," Saleh said, indirectly addressing the fan base. He called this "the crappy part" of rebuilding, but reiterated the organization has a "clear vision" on what must be done to flip the script, as he likes to say.
The Jets (3-10) were mathematically eliminated from the playoffs on Sunday, extending their league-high active drought to 11 seasons -- tied for the longest in franchise history. The growing pains are acute -- for the team and for Wilson.
"We always have his back," said Mosley, the defensive leader. "Whether he throws interceptions or fumbles or makes a big play, we're not going to talk about him behind his back. We're not going to shame him and say, 'You have to do this,' because we respect what he does."
Wilson has one of the toughest jobs in sports, playing quarterback for a franchise on a 50-year search for the next Joe Namath, but he has to do better than 45%. It was the second-lowest completion percentage this season in the NFL, based on a minimum of 40 attempts. The lowest?
Sam Darnold, his predecessor.