Zach Wilson played one of his best games as a Jet in front of a star-studded crowd at MetLife Stadium. But when the game was on the line, Wilson fizzled, the defense fell apart and Robert Saleh completely flipped out.
The Jets fell to Kansas City, 23-20, on Sunday night with Aaron Rodgers back in the building and Taylor Swift watching from a luxury box with other celebrities.
This was a tough loss for the Jets (1-3). Wilson led them back from 17-0 down against the reigning Super Bowl champs and tied it at 20-20 in the third quarter. But he then had a critical fourth-quarter fumble that led to a drive filled with defensive mistakes, questionable penalties and Saleh losing his cool while Kansas City (3-1) was running out the clock in the Jets’ first Sunday night game since 2011.
“That whole drive after the fumble was unfortunate, was extremely unfortunate, especially for a prime-time football game,” Saleh said.
He was irate about a holding penalty on Sauce Gardner that negated Michael Carter II’s interception with 4:20 left. Saleh was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct with 38 seconds left for screaming at the officials.
“There are no moral victories,” he said, “but I would have liked to have seen if we could have pulled that one out on that last drive.”
Saleh also made a pivotal decision late in the first half that didn’t work out, electing to kick a 52-yard field goal on fourth-and-1 with the Jets down 20-12. Greg Zuerlein’s attempt doinked off the right upright.
It had been a brutally difficult week for Wilson. He was vilified by fans, football analysts and even Joe Namath, who called Wilson’s performance last week “awful” and “disgusting.”
He responded by completing 28 of 39 passes for 245 yards and two touchdowns. He made a lot of big throws and dived into the end zone for a two-point conversion with 10:50 left in the third quarter to tie it at 20. Allen Lazard caught three passes for 61 yards, including a 10-yarder for a TD that brought the Jets within 20-18.
Mahomes, the reigning MVP, wasn’t sharp. He was 18-for-30 for 203 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. Travis Kelce caught six passes for 60 yards. Isiah Pacheco rushed for 115 yards on 20 carries and scored on a 48-yard run.
Wilson was kicking himself for fumbling a snap near midfield on the drive after Harrison Butker kicked a 26-yard field goal with 10:51 remaining to put Kansas City up 23-20.
“It’s on me,” Wilson said. “Critical situation, I can’t have a play like that. I cannot drop the ball. To be driving right there and to drop a snap, I cannot do that. I lost us that game and I cannot do that.”
Tershawn Wharton recovered at the Jets’ 47 with 7:24 left and Kansas City (3-1) never gave the ball back. The Jets gave up two long third-down conversions to extend the drive.
Mahomes ran for 24 yards on a third-and-22. C.J. Mosley was flagged for illegal contact, so 5 yards was tacked on to the play.
On third-and-20 from the Jets’ 40, Carter picked off Mahomes at the Jets’ 14. A late flag came in on Gardner for holding Marquez Valdes-Scantling before the pass.
“The receiver ran into me, it was a collision, the same thing that was happening all game,” Gardner said. “They didn’t throw no flags. Pat threw the ball outside of the receiver, MC was there, he made the play and then the ref threw the flag.
“That’s like when you play basketball one-on-one and you go up to lay the ball up, you wait to see, you miss and then you say foul. I can’t believe that. That was just crazy.”
It gave Kansas City a first down at the Jets’ 35 with 4:19 to go. On third-and-8 from the 11 with two minutes to go, Mahomes ran to the 2. He slid but stayed in bounds to keep the clock running, and the Jets were out of timeouts.
This was a tough outcome for Wilson after everything he’s experienced. He played with confidence and mental and physical toughness. On the tying drive, he threw a strike to Lazard. On the two-point try, he was nearly sacked and took a few hits but kept going and dived in for the conversion.
“I was really happy for him to go out and show that he does belong, that he can play in this league,” Saleh said. “If he does play that way, we’re going to win a lot of football games.
“After Michael Carter got that interception on that last drive, I would have loved to see if [Wilson] would have been able to take us down to score a touchdown. I feel like he would have.”