FLORHAM PARK, N.J. – It was a plot twist that might be long forgotten five years from now, if not by late October. But for the moment: Not good. Not good at all.
The 17 games on the Jets’ 2022 regular-season schedule were supposed to be above all else about developing and/or assessing second-year quarterback Zach Wilson, and now at least 18% of that has been erased.
The news came Wednesday morning, when to no one’s surprise coach Robert Saleh announced Joe Flacco would start Sunday’s opener against the Ravens and to everyone’s surprise that Wilson is on the shelf until Week 4 – at the earliest.
Saleh surely knew this was coming on Monday when he told reporters it was possible Wilson would play on Sunday, but let’s give him a pass for some Week 1 gamesmanship.
Anyway, that was far from the most important element of this Jets drama. The heart of the matter is Wilson’s knee.
Saleh repeatedly stressed he is not a doctor, and neither am I, so it would be absurd for us to second-guess the opinions of medical professionals.
But it does not take a doctor to know that Wilson missed four games with a right knee injury last season, will miss at least three games with a right knee injury this season, and plays a style that will leave him vulnerable to future knee injuries.
Saleh does not want to eliminate the scrambling element from Wilson’s game; he called that his quarterback’s “superpower.” But there are times when caution is called for.
Same goes for decisions about using injured players, and the Jets are being cautious here in taking no chances with the near future of the franchise quarterback.
Saleh insisted there was no setback in Wilson’s recovery from the injury he suffered in the preseason opener on Aug. 12, and that no matter what Flacco does over the next three or more games, Wilson is the team’s “future” and will start when he is ready.
Wilson himself finally spoke publicly after Wednesday’s practice for the first time since he suffered the injury, and he stuck closely to the Jets’ script, including intentional fuzziness about the timeline.
He admitted he was mad at himself for getting injured in a preseason game but added that it was a non-contact injury, so it was not as if failing to get out of bounds or slide led to him getting hurt while being tackled.
“It’s frustrating, of course,” he said. “You want to be healthy as much as possible, and when the injury happened I was [ticked] at myself, you know, preseason game, all that kind of stuff. You’ve got to be able to stay healthy. So it was frustrating.”
Initially, Wilson said he knew he would be out until October right after his surgery in August. But then he clarified that he was given no exact timeline, and said if it were up to him, he would be trying to get on the field now.
But he has doctors and trainers in his ears. “You’ve kind of got to give it time to heal, and you just kind of go one week at a time,” he said.
Wilson said he has no concern about the knee bothering him all season, no concern about its long-term health, no concern about his ability to pick up where he left off in his preparation and, really, no concern at all that reporters could discern.
But he did admit it will be important to prove he can stay on the field once he returns to it.
Again, this all could be a mere blip in Wilson’s Hall of Fame career, a footnote from a September in which New York sports fans were too busy worrying about the Mets and Yankees to focus on football foibles.
But absent an update from our time-traveling future selves, all we have to go on is what we know today, which is this:
Saleh can deny that Wilson suffered a physical setback, but the Jets have suffered a setback nonetheless as they seek to see what they have at quarterback, and perhaps what they do not have.