FLORHAM PARK, N.J. – Zach Wilson grew up in Utah where there is no NFL team, but when he started to really get into football there was a quarterback playing in another cold state that quickly got his attention.
Wilson saw Aaron Rodgers play and liked everything about what he was doing for the Green Bay Packers. Wilson started trying to pattern his game after Rodgers and hasn’t stopped.
On Sunday at Lambeau Field, Wilson, 23, will duel Rodgers, 38, for the first time in his career at Lambeau Field. It’s something the Jets second-year quarterback never imagined happening when he started emulating Rodgers around 10 years ago.
“It is really cool,” Wilson said. “Being on the same field is cool. We’re attacking their defense so it’s a little bit different. It’s probably the same thing as last year when we were playing Tampa Bay. We’re playing Tom Brady. I watched this guy since I was born. It was just kind of crazy. I’m sure it will be the same kind of thing this game.”
Wilson held his own and nearly led the Jets to the win over Brady and the Bucs. A Wilson mistake and a defensive breakdown late cost the Jets the victory.
The Jets are a much better team this season and Wilson is a more mature quarterback. If Wilson can lead the Jets over his idol and they improve to 4-2, they could become a team that’s taken seriously. The Packers (3-2) lost last week to the Giants in London. Rodgers hasn’t lost two games in a row since 2018.
It was maybe five or six years earlier that Wilson said he started to watch Rodgers.
The two met last summer when the Jets and Packers held joint practices in Green Bay. They had some conversations then and texted in the weeks following. There are similarities in the offenses they play in. Packers coach Matt LaFleur’s brother Mike LaFleur is the Jets’ offensive coordinator. Wilson said he never told Rodgers how much he looked up to him, though.
“I’ve been watching him since I was a little kid,” Wilson said. “Trying to replicate the way he throws, the way he plays the game.
“We didn’t have an NFL team in Utah. I wouldn’t say I was a Packers’ fan. I was just an Aaron Rodgers fan. I grew up watching him. I always liked watching their games because of him and kind of where he was at. He was a quarterback I tried to replicate and steal things from.”
Wilson really started studying Rodgers in college, at BYU. He saw how he simplifies thing and beats defenses. Wilson said he’s tried to add “a little bit of everything” that Rodgers does to his game.
“He’s extremely accurate,” Wilson said. “The way he’s able to place the ball. You see his completion percentage, how he takes care of the ball. Then he’s able to be that athletic, scramble-type quarterback a little bit, off-schedule be able to create plays out of nothing while protecting himself.
“I just like the way he kind of plays within the offense and outside of the offense.”
Wilson has those tendencies and a big arm like Rodgers. The similarities end there. One is a future Hall-of-Fame quarterback and the other will be starting just his 16th NFL game on Sunday. Wilson has led the Jets to two straight wins in his only two starts this season and done so in different ways.
He threw two fourth-quarter touchdown passes to lift the Jets over the Steelers in Week 4. Wilson didn’t throw a touchdown pass or interception last week against the Dolphins, but he scored one of the Jets’ five rushing TDs.
Wilson said he just did what the games dictated and what his team needed him to do. The Jets noted the growth and maturation he’s shown thus far this season.
“He’s totally invested in doing what’s best for the Jets each and every play, each and every week,” Mike LaFleur said. “That’s not different from last year in terms of his mindset. He’s just more comfortable. He’s more comfortable with the league and the speed of it. He’s more comfortable with the offense.”