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Robert Saleh thinks  Zach Wilson showed grit on rushing TD

Zach Wilson #2 of the New York Jets

Zach Wilson #2 of the New York Jets dives into the end zone ahead of Eric Murray #23 and Maliek Collins #97 of the Houston Texans in the third quarter at NRG Stadium on November 28, 2021 in Houston, Texas. Credit: Getty Images/Carmen Mandato

Zach Wilson was bothered more by his performance than his knee on Sunday. But the Jets remain confident that the rookie quarterback will make major strides the more he plays.

"I love that he’s hard on himself," Robert Saleh said on Monday. "His desire to get better is up there with anybody. He works his tail off at it. At the same time, [as] coaches, we’re hard on ourselves, too. It’s our job to help him get better and do everything we can for him."

Wilson, who missed the previous four games with a sprained right knee, didn’t have a big passing day in the Jets’ 21-14 win over the Texans. He threw for 145 yards and no touchdowns. But Wilson scored the go-ahead 4-yard rushing touchdown by reading what the defense gave him.

The play was supposed to be a handoff to Austin Walter, but Wilson saw that the Texans were playing for that. He faked the handoff, pulled it back and kept it. Wilson, not worried about his knee, cut back and dived forward for the score that made it 18-14.

That play epitomized why the Jets are so high on Wilson and drafted him No. 2 overall. He wasn’t thinking about his knee. He improvised, did something off schedule and made a play when his team needed one.

"It shows no limitations," Saleh said. "The ball was designed to go to the running back. He didn’t have an option to run. As he was handing it off, he saw that the Texans had a fully loaded box, so he pulled it and made something happen. Good for him on that. But it was pretty cool."

The Jets believe the big throws will come eventually, but this was an important test and step for Wilson coming back from the knee issue.

Wilson said the knee bothered him twice in the game. One time, he hobbled off after scrambling out of bounds, but he stayed in the game. Saleh said Wilson was checked by doctors Monday and everything was fine.

"There’s no limitations to what he’s going to be able to do with regards to running, dropping back, boots, all that stuff," Saleh said. "Obviously, he took a pretty good hit on the sideline and he felt it."

Saleh wasn’t surprised that Wilson shook off the pain and wanted to return to the game. He said the quarterback was pushing to play a couple of weeks ago.

"He’s tough as nails," Saleh said. "He was trying to play Buffalo. He was trying to play Miami. We wanted to take the extra couple of weeks to let him get his knee to fully healthy.

"Even in the game, he’s not going to be denied. If he has a chance to play, he wants to play. His grit and his toughness and his desire to get better is pretty darn high in terms of how hard he works at it."

One recurring theme with Wilson is that he gets off to slow starts. He threw an interception on the second series. The Jets had minus-7 yards passing heading into their last drive of the half.

Saleh believes that "reps and time" will help Wilson start faster. He pointed to how much looser the rookie plays as the game wears on.

Wilson led a 10-play touchdown drive late in the first half and opened the third quarter with an 11-play drive that ended with his rushing score. He followed that with an eight-play drive that resulted in a missed field goal and a 13-play series capped by a field goal.

"He orchestrated three pretty long drives and did enough to win the football game," Saleh said. "And that’s what’s most important."

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