ARLINGTON, Texas -- They stood around Zach Wilson, who still wore his Jets uniform. Each took turns speaking, at times overlapping. Tyler Conklin seemed to run point. Jeremy Ruckert chimed in. C.J. Uzomah, too. Garrett Wilson put his arm over his shoulder, slapping the No. 2 on the front of his chest.
All week, the Jets talked of a quarterback progressed. Yet in this 30-10 loss to the Cowboys, Wilson put forth a horrifically-familiar stat line: Three interceptions, a completion percentage under 45 and a quarterback rating under 40. Yet again, he failed to throw for 200 yards.
That was alarming. But those surrounding their quarterback insisted that they saw something the box score couldn’t read.
Panic? No. Now’s not the time for that.
“From the outside looking in, it’s easy to blame the quarterback,” Garrett Wilson said. “All of us, internally, know we all have to take the right steps and get better. Zach went out there and gave it his all today.”
Wilson, who caught two passes for 83 yards, highlighted by a 68-yard touchdown, isn’t just practicing for his next career as a publicist. This is not a step back for New York’s passer -- not yet. He wasn’t spectacular by any stretch. Context is needed, though. Most of his issues had to do with the Cowboys’ ferocious defense and a line that did very little to give the Jets offense any chance of success.
The Cowboys pitched a shutout against the Giants a week ago. You saw why against the Jets. Micah Parsons is one of the game’s most dominant defenders. After torturing New York’s one franchise on Sunday night, he went to work on the other Sunday afternoon. The Cowboys sacked Zach Wilson three times (two from Parsons) and hit him five times (four from Parsons). Wilson was under pressure on 53.3 percent of his pass attempts, according to NFL’s NextGen Stats.
It was a dominant game from a dominant player. He single-handedly prevented just about anything from happening.
“He’s a helluva player,” said Conklin.
But the Jets knew this was coming. That’s why they put such an emphasis on running the ball. They wanted to set their offense up in manageable second- and third-down situations so the Cowboys rushers, specifically Parsons, couldn’t just pin their ears back and go. The problem: The Cowboys knew this, too.
Dallas loaded the box (eight-plus defenders) on 28 percent of the Jets’ rushing attempts. They had seven (neutral) on 44 percent. They were “daring” them to throw, Robert Saleh said. Maybe New York should have opened it up more in those situations? Maybe they should have trusted Wilson to make the play? Instead, the Jets rushed 18 combined times against those fronts. They totaled 42 yards -- an average of 2.3 per carry.
Breece Hall, who ran rampant a week ago against the Bills, had just nine yards on four carries. Dalvin Cook was worse, with seven yards on four. The result: The Jets faced 10 third downs on Sunday. Just three were less than four yards from the marker. They converted only one of their third-down attempts.
“I mean, I only got four touches,” Hall said. “That’s why we struggled. It is what it is. We just got down early today and just abandoned the run. That type of stuff happens. You feel like you have to get back in the game and it just slips away.”
Still, this was a one-possession game (18-10) at halftime. The Cowboys led by just two touchdowns entering the fourth quarter. Wilson, through three quarters, was 7 of 14 for 76 yards with a touchdown. Those numbers aren’t jaw-dropping, but they’re somewhat inspiring considering the incessant pressure in his face. He stood tall in the pocket. He scrambled (and got down) when he could, adding another 36 yards on the ground.
Then came the fourth. The Cowboys built on their lead. Wilson wanted to make plays, so he started taking chances.
Those, on Sunday, didn’t go in his favor.
“I thought I was seeing it well, at least through the first three quarters,” Wilson said. “I need to be better. We’re right there.”
That’s why, despite what the box score says, the Jets still believe in their third-year passer. They have every right to, too. And they should. No red flags should be raised off this game. No alarms sounded.
As long as this is just one game.
The Cowboys might just be one of the game’s best. The Jets, at this moment, are not in their same class. The Patriots, whom the Jets host next week at MetLife, are not the Cowboys. They’re solid, but in no way, shape or form one of the premier teams in the conference. They might very well be the worst team in the Jets’ division.
It’s easy to shake off this loss to Dallas if Wilson plays well and helps the Jets top New England. If these struggles continue? If the Jets fall again to the Patriots? If Wilson box score reads next week what it did this?
Panic in Florham Park will be warranted and justified.