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Antwan Staley

Antwan Staley: Robert Saleh may not be ready to quit on Zach Wilson, but QB’s time with Jets is on life support

NEW YORK — At MetLife Stadium Thursday night, it was as if a pair of wakes took place: One for the Jets’ playoff dreams, the other for Zach Wilson’s career with the team.

While neither one is officially dead as of Friday, they both might as well be after the Jets’ embarrassing 19-3 loss to the Jaguars.

On national television in his second consecutive start in place of Mike White, who is still recovering from fractured ribs, the second-year quarterback was abysmal as he completed just 9 of 18 passes for 92 yards with an interception while having a QB rating of 41.9.

Wilson was so bad that Jets fans booed him after every incompletion. After his interception to end the half down 13-3, Jets fans let Wilson and the entire offense have it. Wilson, the second-overall pick in the 2021 NFL draft, was so bad that he was benched for Chris Streveler, the Jets' practice squad quarterback, who was elevated for the game against the Jaguars.

Thursday night was an absolute new low for Wilson after he was benched following his equally inept performance in a 10-3 loss against the Patriots last month. Before the Patriots debacle, he had started seven consecutive games once he recovered from his preseason knee injury. The Jets had just three first downs with Wilson behind center, while Streveler got four first downs on one drive.

“I think you’re just trying to find some confidence on the field,” Wilson said after the primetime disaster. “I’m just trying to feel rhythm and flow and confidence and just the ability to just feel like things are there.

“I haven’t been able to find that for myself and that’s the goal, that’s the search, is how can I approach this film with just that learning mindset, try and just get better from it.

“But I didn’t put my team in the best position out there and we weren’t able to do anything on offense.”

What was more sickening for Jets fans was having to watch Trevor Lawrence, who was selected one spot before Wilson, look like the quarterback prodigy he was projected to be coming out of Clemson. The Jaguars QB looked confident, calm and poised in the pocket, all the things Wilson is not.

What also makes matters worse is Lawrence could lead the Jaguars to an AFC South division crown in his second year. Wilson has completely lost his confidence, and there is no way the Jets can trust him again this year with where he is mentally.

The Jets wanted to give Wilson a reset with the hopes of him returning as the team’s starting quarterback. Now it seems like Wilson is more fragile than ever.

“Confidence is a big deal,” head coach Robert Saleh said during Friday’s post-mortem. “Confidence for coaching, confidence for players, confidence in our own individual self.

“I do know he works his tail off. It is a tough thing to try and overcome. But it doesn’t take much to flip confidence. He just needs to get on a little run.

“A couple of things happen that go his way and I felt like that was happening in the first half in the Detroit game where he really had a nice first half and he finished the half strong. We have to help him as we are not going to quit on him.”

No matter who you want to blame, Wilson’s confidence is clearly broken. He is struggling on the field so much that he has actually regressed as a player compared to his rookie year. His poor decision-making and inability to play inside the pocket are evident.

The Jets selected Wilson in the 2021 draft out of BYU over Trey Lance, Justin Fields and Mac Jones. Hindsight is 20/20, but Wilson could be one of the biggest draft busts in NFL history.

In his 22 starts, Wilson has an 8-13 record with 4,022 yards, 15 touchdowns and 18 interceptions and a 70.9 quarterback rating. His career numbers are eerily similar to another draft bust, JaMarcus Russell, who the Raiders selected with the top pick of the 2007 draft.

In his first 22 starts, Russell threw for 3,860 yards, 16 touchdowns and 21 interceptions. He had a 7-15 record. His quarterback rating of 70.8. After three seasons with the team, the Raiders released Russell.

“I do believe he is better,” Jets offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur said of Wilson. “I know it is not showing, I know he feels more confident going into games.

“He feels more confident with the speed of the NFL and it is not showing. It is going to be written that is all about him, but it’s not. It starts with me getting all 11 guys on the same page.

The biggest problem with Wilson’s struggles is the Jets are ready to win now. Following the victory against the Broncos in late October, Gang Green was 5-2. Saleh’s team seemed poised to end the NFL’s longest playoff drought with its defense leading the way (they’re ranked in the top five in a number of categories, including yards and points allowed). The Jets have won just two games since and they’re now 7-8 and in last place in the AFC East. The Jets offense has never recovered from the loss of rookie running back Breece Hall who tore his ACL vs. the Broncos.

Unless a bottle with a magic genie inside is floating around, the Jets will not make the playoffs in 2022. That will put a lot of pressure on Saleh and GM Joe Douglas to find a quarterback next offseason.

There’s no way the Jets can justify bringing Wilson back next year no matter what Saleh says. The New York media market is the toughest in the country and the fans have already turned on Wilson.

Wilson’s own teammates may say they believe in him, but their support is clearly with White. After he was named the starter over Wilson, many members of the team wore Mike F’n White shirts to games and on the Jets charter jet.

Saleh used to say with confidence Wilson is the Jets’ quarterback. When asked on Friday about Wilson still being in the team’s long-term plans, Saleh couldn’t even answer the question.

“We are not going to quit on anybody,” Saleh said when asked about Wilson’s future. “I got confident in all of our guys.

“I just feel like every single year there is a kid who is struggling and everybody wants to quit on him. This might not be their year, but that doesn’t mean next year can’t be their year and that’s everybody on the roster.

“As long as that person is wearing a Jets uniform, we are going to do everything to pour our hearts and souls into these kids. If that best version earns a spot on the field, that will happen.”

Wilson is only 23 years old, so there’s time for him to figure it out. But the Jets can’t afford to wait on a player who is not demonstrating any signs of improvement.

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