Jets' Wilson looking to leave his struggles against the Patriots in the past
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) — Zach Wilson certainly is not alone in having a tough time finding success against the New England Patriots' defense.
But the New York Jets quarterback has had some of his worst moments while facing Bill Belichick's bunch. And that's something he hopes to change Sunday when the teams square off at MetLife Stadium.
“I just need to be smart with the ball,” Wilson said Thursday. “Especially last time we played them at home, a lot of them were just dumb plays by me. I need to play one play at a time, be efficient with the football, trust what I'm seeing and play ball.”
Much easier said than done, though.
Wilson is 0-4 against the Patriots — the last four losses of the Jets' 14-game skid against their AFC East rivals. In those four starts, the third-year quarterback has thrown two touchdown passes with seven INTs — all coming in the Jets' two home games — and a passer rating of 50.6 while completing just 50.9% of his passes.
“They do a lot of different things,” Wilson said of the Patriots. “They try to make it confusing for you, so I think it's just having those keys, being able to do it quick, play fast and be decisive.”
Again, sounds simple.
“This whole game is about fundamentals,” offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett said. “And as long as he can continually work on his footwork, his eyes, his progressions, his understanding of what we’re trying to accomplish and the intention of the play, I think he’ll be just fine.”
In his first game against the Patriots last season at home, Wilson was 20 of 41 for a career-high 355 yards with two TDs and three interceptions in a 22-17 loss. Last November at New England, Wilson went 9 of 22 for just 77 yards. He had no interceptions or touchdowns in the Jets' 10-3 loss that ended on Marcus Jones' 84-yard punt return for a score.
Wilson was benched for three games after that performance — the first of two times he was sent to the sideline to reset himself mentally and physically.
“It was just not a clean game, overall,” Wilson recalled. “For me, it's just learning from those mistakes."
It wasn't supposed to be this way right now, of course. The plan was for Wilson to be the backup to Aaron Rodgers and learn from the four-time NFL MVP while trying to further develop.
Instead, Wilson is back running the offense with Rodgers healing at home in California after tearing his left Achilles tendon on his fourth snap with the Jets.
“We didn’t ever go into a situation where Zach was saying, ‘OK, I’m going to rest back here and just kind of watch,'” passing game coordinator Todd Downing said. “It was more like, ‘I’m going to prepare as though I’m starting and learn as much as I can through osmosis when I’m not playing.’ And, unfortunately, that moment came a little bit quicker than some anticipated, but I’m excited to watch him step up to the challenge.”
Downing, who's in his first season with the Jets after being the Titans' offensive coordinator the past two years, has seen noticeable improvement in Wilson's footwork since they first started working together. He also thinks the way the summer played out helped Wilson prepare for this situation.
“I think in the preseason it gave us the ability to say, OK, Aaron’s still taking a lot of the starter reps in practice, but Zach was starting all the preseason games,” Downing said. “So him taking that approach in August, I think benefited now.”
Wilson insists he has put his previous struggles against New England — and throughout last season — behind him. And he's moving forward with a refreshed approach and renewed confidence on the field.
“I'm excited for where I am at right now,” Wilson said. “I feel like I'm in a good spot and this team is in a really good spot. We have a lot of belief in each other. We're going to keep building on that and I'm excited about where we are.”
NOTES: K Greg Zuerlein was limited at practice with an injured right groin, an improvement after he sat out Wednesday. If he can't play, Austin Seibert will replace him as he did last Sunday at Dallas. ... Also limited were DL John Franklin-Myers (hip), RT Mekhi Becton (knee), CB Michael Carter II (elbow), RB Breece Hall (knee) and LB Quincy Williams (knee). ... S Tony Adams (hamstring) and LT Duane Brown (shoulder/hip) sat out for the second straight day. ... The Jets signed OT Cedric Ogbuehi to the practice squad and released OL Ryan Swoboda.
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