The honeymoon ended with 14:12 remaining in the fourth quarter of the very first home game of Zach Wilson’s very first NFL season.
Moments after Wilson’s errant throw to a wide-open Michael Carter near midfield skittered off the running back’s outstretched hands, the 22-year-old quarterback heard his first boos from Jets fans hoping he’d be finally be the one to deliver their team from football purgatory.
Welcome to New York, Zach!
Wilson may yet become the answer to the Jets' decades-long search for a worthy successor to Joe Namath, but not before he goes through some difficult moments during his NFL apprenticeship. Moments, for example, like the nightmare afternoon he experienced in Sunday’s 25-6 loss to Bill Belichick’s Patriots at MetLife Stadium.
Wilson’s misfire to Carter on what should have been an easy dump-off pass came on the heels of a four interception performance against a coach who might just as easily be named Voldemort as Belichick. He who shall not be named did a number on Wilson, just as he has done against Sam "Seeing Ghosts" Darnold, Mark "Butt Fumble" Sanchez and so many others who have been vanquished by the most accomplished coach in NFL history and a decades-old nemesis for the team he spurned in 2000.
It was therefore no surprise that Wilson couldn’t solve Belichick’s defense, because very few young quarterbacks can. For that matter, nor can many veteran passers either. There were three interceptions in the first half and one more in the third quarter, when Wilson hoisted a deep throw he’d hoped to complete to fellow rookie Elijah Moore. Instead, the ball was hopelessly off target and went directly into the arms of safety Devin McCourty at the Patriots’ 43.
Wilson accounted for just a pair of field goals just a week after showing some life in the second half of a 19-14 loss in Carolina. He’d been decked six times by the Panthers’ defense yet made it a one-score game with a commendable late-game comeback.
No such luck against the Patriots. And there’s more where that came from.
"I promise you," Jets coach Robert Saleh said, "this is not going to be the hardest game he ever plays."
Wilson accepted both blame and criticism after throwing interceptions on the first two passes he attempted and poor accuracy and timing on many others.
"I’m not paying attention to it, but they should be booing," Wilson said. "We didn’t play well on offense. We didn’t execute. We’ve got to do a better job."
Wilson’s final stat line was gruesome: 19-for-33 for 210 yards, zero touchdowns, four interceptions and a 37.0 rating.
"First two passes put our team in a bad spot," Wilson said. "I have to do a better job executing. Turnovers are a deciding factor in winning games. I have to do a better job executing."
He also needs to realize he can’t try to be the hero every time he takes the field. This isn’t BYU, and Boise State isn’t on your schedule any longer.
"When you have a rookie quarterback, it’s just having confidence that it’s OK to play a boring game of football," Saleh said. "He’s an electric dude, he’s competitive as crap, [but] sometimes it’s OK to be boring."
Boring certainly would have been better against the Patriots, especially with the Jets showing life in the running game with 152 yards. But Wilson was far too daring for his own good, especially against a defense conceived by the most brilliant defensive mind in the history of football. Instead of taking checkdowns when his downfield receivers were covered, Wilson too often tried to force the ball into coverage.
Rule No. 1 of playing in today’s AFC East: Do not try to outsmart Belichick. Ever.
"Just got to execute across the board," Wilson said. "I’ve got to do better."
Wilson is a supremely confident player whose arm talent is tantalizingly good and whose football IQ is off the charts. But that doesn’t mean he can simply come into the best league on the planet and dominate. There are dues to be paid and lessons to learn. Sunday afternoon offered the latest proof of that.
But while Jets fans may already be experiencing frustration at the start of Wilson’s career, his teammates most certainly are not.
"We’ve got to continue to build him up," defensive lineman Sheldon Rankins said. "Just allow him to be himself and work through it and eventually, we’ll get this thing going. As a younger player, you want to be that guy to make big plays. It’s his first home game in front of our home crowd, and he wanted to do some special things."
Sorry, kid. Not this time.