Whether it’s his improved health or stronger leadership qualities, Jets defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson is becoming a force again.
Wilkerson recorded a sack, two quarterback hits and a pass breakup in the Jets’ 34-21 victory over the Bills Thursday night at MetLife Stadium.
The night before the game, Wilkerson challenged his defensive teammates to hold Bills running back LeSean McCoy to less than 70 yards rushing. McCoy was held to 25.
“I wanted to tell the group to keep them under 60 and [defensive tackle Steve McLendon] said I think 80,” Wilkerson said. “So we came to a common ground of 70 and got the job done. But great job to the defense holding up, sticking to that challenge and taking it head on.”
Wilkerson hadn’t practiced the past three weeks due to shoulder and toe injuries. It seems the time away from the practice field helped. Wilkerson has eight tackles, two sacks, two tackles for loss, four quarterback hurries and one pass breakup during that time. Wilkerson is getting treatment and rest in the week leading up to the game. The decision to play is determined during pregame warmups.
“I’m just trying to do my job each and every day and be the best I can,” he said. “Get treatment, stay in the training room, rehab and when it comes time to play just do my job and do the best I can.”
Earlier in the season, Wilkerson was getting two pain injection shots for a sprained AC joint in his shoulder, one before the game and another at halftime. Wilkerson then suffered a toe injury and he was getting a pain injection for that as well.
It was clear Wilkerson didn’t have the same explosiveness off the line he needed to pressure the quarterback or get away from blockers to make tackles. Opposing offenses were still doubling Wilkerson, making him ineffective. For the first two months of the season, Wilkerson’s lack of sacks was constantly brought up. He said sacks come in bunches and last week he picked up his first of the season against the Falcons.
“I did hear that line,” Wilkerson said with a smile when told about sacks coming in bunches.
Wilkerson’s shoulder has improved over the past few weeks and he’s been reduced to just one pain injection. He still receives pain medication for his toe.
It’s one of those situations Wilkerson would rather not speak about because he doesn’t want to bring attention to his health.
“He’s a helluva leader,” linebacker Jordan Jenkins said. “He may not talk to the media a lot, he may not be outspoken, but in terms of being a leader he’s one of the leaders of this team.”
Wilkerson, the highest-paid player and one of the longest tenured players on the team, has taken on the responsibility to speak up more. Wilkerson will talk at halftime and after games before coach Todd Bowles addresses the team. He also speaks Wednesday nights in the team meeting.
“Mo is a great leader, I’ve definitely been taking a lot of tips from him since I’ve been here,” defensive end Leonard Williams said. “He’s been here for a long time, a great veteran and he steps up in times when we need him. Before the game, he always breaks down the huddle and in the defensive meeting [Wednesday] night he stepped up and challenged the defense. We came out and achieved that challenge and things like that, Mo constantly stepping up and helping out.”
The Jets allowed the Bills to rush for 190 yards, led by McCoy’s 110, in the season opener. The Bills had big rushing gains of 14, 16, 20 and 27 yards.
In Thursday night’s rematch, the Bills’ longest run was seven yards and Wilkerson was part of the reason why.
“We know what kind of defense we can be,” Wilkerson said. “It was a good game that we played [Thursday night] and we got to build on that going forward.”