EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- New York Jets rookie quarterback Zach Wilson passed his first test with relative ease, delivering an efficient performance in his preseason debut Saturday night against the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium.
Wilson, who started and played two series, completed 6-of-9 passes for 63 yards. He was in control from the outset, calmly distributing the ball to five different receivers. The second overall pick did a nice job of directing the first-team offense, leading the Jets to seven first downs and a field goal in the two possessions.
"He looked comfortable, especially on third down," said Robert Saleh, who made his Jets head-coaching debut. "[He] made some good throws, directed the offense really well. He got in and out of the huddle and moved it very well. It was a good first day."
The fan base can exhale.
Wilson's first two weeks in training camp were uneven, sparking headlines and talk-show chatter. Saleh, noting Wilson's inexperience, had warned, "It's going to get worse before it gets better."
Actually, he was wrong. It got better Saturday night, though it should be noted that Wilson faced mostly backups. Giants coach Joe Judge decided to rest most of his key starters on defense.
"I thought it was good," Wilson said of his night. "Of course I still have things to clean up. It was a great experience. I really enjoyed having that game-like setting, kind of the intro to the NFL and the whole game."
The most impressive part of Wilson's night was how he handled third down. He went 3-for-3, including 9- and 16-yard conversions to wide receivers Corey Davis and Keelan Cole, respectively. With pressure in his face, he hit tight end Tyler Kroft for 13 yards on a third-and-14. The ensuing fourth-and-1 was stuffed at the Giants' 43-yard line.
"I thought that was awesome for us," Wilson said of the third-down conversions.
Those plays came from the pocket. Wilson also showed an ability to play outside the pocket, throwing on the run on designed bootlegs -- one of his strengths.
Wilson's improvisational skill is one of the traits that attracted the Jets, but he didn't have to show it against the Giants. Under little pressure, he stuck to the script. He wasn't sacked and had no interceptions -- a clean outing.
Saleh was most pleased with Wilson's composure on third down, but he cautioned there will be growing pains.
"We have so much confidence in the young man," he said. "You want to stack up as many good days as possible, but there's youth. He's still a rookie, and there's still a lot of things he's going to learn. This young man's potential is through the roof, but it's still a process."
The Jets are counting on Wilson to be their opening-day starter. They haven't announced it yet, but it became obvious when they didn't acquire a veteran to compete for the starting job. The top backups are Mike White and James Morgan, neither of whom has regular-season experience. The fourth-stringer is journeyman Josh Johnson.
The Jets played without running back Tevin Coleman (excused for personal reasons) and rookie wide receiver Elijah Moore (quadriceps), who is considered day-to-day.
The defense played well, prompting a bold statement from linebacker C.J. Mosley.
"I'll go back to one of my quotes when I first got here [in 2019]," he said. "If people are sleeping on the Jets, if they have that same mentality, you're going to get your ass blown out. That's 100%, no matter if we're at MetLife or anywhere else."