At first, it looked like Sunday night would be yet another long night for the Jets and quarterback Zach Wilson as the offense punted on each of the first three drives and entered the second quarter down 17-0 to the Kansas City Chiefs.
But after the defense forced a safety, Wilson led the offense on drives of 62, 41 and 75 yards to bring New York level with Kansas City early in the third quarter.
“I thought he was really good,” head coach Robert Saleh said of Wilson's performance. “Gave us a chance to win the game, brought us back. If he plays like that, we’re gonna win a lot of games.”
A Kansas City field goal broke the deadlock with 10:51 to play and Wilson responded on the ensuing drive, getting Jets on the move and the ball at midfield. But the third-year quarterback mishandled a second-down snap and the Chiefs recovered. The Jets wouldn’t get the ball back as the visitors ate up the final eight minutes of play for a 23-20 win.
“Yeah, that’s on me. Critical situation, I can’t, I can’t have a play like that, I can not drop the ball,” Wilson said. “This team is sacrificing a lot. Guys are making plays, defense is making plays, O-line was protecting, receivers were making plays.
“To be driving right there and to drop a snap, I can not do that. I cost us that game. I can not do that.”
Wilson finished the night completing 28 of 39 passes for 245 yards (6.3 yards per attempt) with two touchdowns and the costly fumble. He was sacked twice for a loss of 17 yards and ran for 14 yards on two attempts. Wilson finished with a 105.2 passer rating with a 65.9 QBR.
“I thought he gave his guys a chance to play,” Saleh said. “Threw some balls up that were 50-50 balls and his teammates made plays for him and he made plays for his teammates and the O-line protected.”
Wilson thought offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett “did an unbelievable job in mixing it up and taking shots and spreading it around.”
“I thought he was keeping them on their toes, I thought we had a good plan, I thought I was seeing it really well. I would say we need to keep building on this. But I need to do better with the details. I can think of multiple plays I need to be better on,” he said, pointing out a low throw on a third down into the end zone to tight end Tyler Conklin. “That shoulda been a touchdown instead of ending in a field goal.
“It’s the little things that win games. And if you wanna be great you gotta have those and I need to be better on those."
On the play that would be the Jets’ last offensive snap, Wilson said he should have made a protection adjustment as the Chiefs were going to have a free rusher coming from the quarterback’s left.
“I knew the guy on the left was gonna make me hot so I was trying to drift out of the pocket to give myself a little more room throw it,” he said, “but you know, we went over that look, coaches did a good job preparing me for that, and if I make the right call, we block it up just fine and I’m able to play the play.”
While the young quarterback added he “needs to be better on the little things, the details” his play on Sunday night drew praise from Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes.
“And, I mean, Zach played his ass off -- sorry for my language -- and made some big-time throws,” Mahomes said. "He played his tail off. He battled. We have a good defense, and he made a lot of big-time throws into the windows and down the field. I've watched him since his BYU days, so I was proud of him to go out there and show out."
On the night, Wilson became the only opposing quarterback to have more completions (28 to 18), more passing yards (303 to 245), more TD passes (two to one) and fewer interceptions (zero to two) than Mahomes in a game that the Chiefs’ QB started in the professional and collegiate ranks out of 127 regular and postseason starts, per Opta Stats. But it wasn't enough.
Wilson’s head coach singled out “the decisiveness [with which] he was making his decisions” as an area that the young quarterback showed improvement on Sunday night.
“I thought he did a really, really nice job,” he added. “... I was really happy for him to go out and show that he does belong and he can play in this league.”
He added: “Would have loved to have seen after [Michael Carter] got that interception [which was negated by a defensive holding penalty] on that last drive, I would have loved to see if he woulda been able to take us down to score a touchdown, I feel like he would have.”
On that front, Wilson agrees.
“Absolutely,” the QB said. “We were going to. We needed some time and it’s not on the defense. It’s on me, we had the ball with… whatever it was left. We’re at midfield and we had a chance right there. So, I need to be better.”