Jets head coach Robert Saleh against the Buffalo Bills at...

Jets head coach Robert Saleh against the Buffalo Bills at MetLife Stadium on Nov. 6, 2022. Credit: Jim McIsaac

Robert Saleh is running out of time to correct what could become the worst and most staining mistake of his coaching career.

He gave it an honest try with Zach Wilson. He and his staff (and Aaron Rodgers) turned the kid into a better quarterback than he was last year. Congratulations on that triumph, although considering how mesmerizingly awful things were in 2022, improvement in itself probably was more an inevitability than an achievement.

They even won a few games with him, figuring out a way to topple an Eagles team that looks like the best in the NFL, along with victories over the Broncos and Giants, two teams that, well, don’t.

But Wilson also has cost the Jets at least three games, too: New England, Kansas City and Las Vegas, all three in which a fourth-quarter turnover derailed what could have been rousing wins that could have silenced the throngs forever calling for a change at quarterback.

And now the time has come for Saleh to decide once and for all what he wants more, what he prizes above all else.

Does he want to win a championship? Does he want to bring the Jets and their Super Bowl-level defense to the playoffs for the first time in 13 years? Does he want to have the team in position to make it worth Rodgers potentially returning from a torn Achilles and possibly scripting the most improbable narrative in football history (or at least since Joe Namath’s guarantees)?

Or does he want to protect Wilson from the chagrin of being benched?

At some point on Sunday evening, assuming Wilson and the Jets’ offense haven’t yet snapped out of a current 36-possession funk in which they haven’t scored a touchdown, all eyes will be on Saleh to make that call.

Because the Jets did not promote practice-squadder Trevor Siemian to the active roster Saturday, backup Tim Boyle is the only other quarterback available. That’s not an ideal scenario, but neither is being idle while Wilson squanders yet another Jets season.

If Saleh does make the in-game change and it somehow works in the Jets’ favor? Awesome. Bring on the Dolphins on Black Friday!

If he makes the change and it doesn’t? At least he tried. And there is nothing that says he can’t go back to Wilson next week.

But if he stays pat with Wilson and the Jets lose because of it on Sunday — not even because of another critical turnover but any flub or failure of the offense to come through — it might be over. There might never be another chance to salvage this season. For the second year in a row, a Jets team with legitimate title aspirations and top-tier personnel will have been done in by Wilson’s ineptitude.

Does no one in the organization remember why it was so significant to pursue Rodgers in the first place? It was because they all agreed they could not win with Wilson as their quarterback.

Not all of this is on Saleh, just as not all of the scoring difficulties are on Wilson. The front office and ownership that didn’t have a reliable backup already on the opening day roster and then refused to address the position after Rodgers’ injury carries as much — if not more — of the blame.

Saleh can end it, though. Before it ends the 2023 Jets. Before it potentially ends him.

Saleh is the one who has to stand in front of the media each week and explain why he is sticking with Wilson. And, presumably, he is the one who has to stand in front of his team and deliver the same tormented rationales to them. Reporters may ask tough questions, but our livelihoods don’t depend on competent quarterback play. Imagine telling a pride of lions they can’t eat because it might hurt the hamster’s feelings?

This week’s contorted explanation from Saleh had something to do with not everything being Wilson’s fault (which it is not) and being philosophically opposed to making a position change in an attempt to try to create a spark.

“I’ve never felt like making one guy the fall guy is going to make everyone around [the team] better,’’ Saleh said.

Never mind that that’s exactly what happened last year when Saleh finally sat Wilson for Mike White. If White hadn’t gotten hurt and Wilson hadn’t had to return to action, the Jets very well might have reached the playoffs in 2022.

It was against Buffalo in the opener that Wilson had to grab his helmet and run onto the field to try to save the season. It might be against Buffalo this week that Wilson will make that journey in reverse, from the field to the sideline, for the exact same reason: to try to save the season.

Offensive lineman Mekhi Becton described this game against the Bills to perfection, calling it a “gotta-have-it” win. That result may very well come down to whether Saleh makes what is rapidly becoming the gotta-do-it choice.


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