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One small step for the New York Jets, one giant leap for sanity

Zach Wilson, New York Jets, Houston Texans
Zach Wilson, New York Jets, Houston Texans, Jet X Graphic, Getty Images

A small step for the New York Jets allows at least some semblance of sanity for the fans.

HOUSTON, TX—No, it was not pretty. This much is certain.

There was the Zach Wilson flip pass that bounced off Ty Johnson’s back and into the waiting hands of cornerback Tavierre Thomas. There was the Ryan Griffin missed touchdown opportunity that saw a football fall to the end zone turf after smacking his hands appropriately.

Defensively, there was the idea that Bryce Hall put his worst professional outing on tape and a poorly executed third-and-long blitz in the end zone. There was also a play when Wilson’s helmet ripped off his head and a fumble thanks to one of the five sacks relented on the day.

We even had a big-man-with-the-ball moment that featured John Franklin-Myers sort of veering towards the sideline in a very soft and sideways Jim Marshall moment.

No, this one wasn’t epic.

Racking up just 266 offensive yards to the home team’s 202, by no means was this a pretty NFL ball game. By very little means does this outing provide an outburst of tremendous hope moving forward.

Just don’t think that perspective will carry water in the New York Jets locker room Sunday afternoon and facility the ensuring workday.

New York Jets, Houston Texans, 2021, Week 12 Final
New York Jets, Houston Texans, 2021, Week 12 Final, Jet X Graphic, Getty Images

The Jets’ come-from-behind 21-14 victory over the Houston Texans in Week 12 most definitely represents a small step for the program that, at the very least, allows some semblance of sanity for a disgruntled and exceedingly antsy fanbase.

“It’s the same thing with regards to ignoring the noise; ignore the praise, ignore the criticism, and just focus on keeping the main thing the main thing, (which is) getting better every week, building the foundation that we’re building, and understanding that this organization is going to get somewhere,” Jets head coach Robert Saleh said when asked if snapping his team’s three-game losing streak could lead them somewhere promising.

Saleh had to be feeling the heat as of late. Other than two surprising wins against the Tennessee Titans and Cincinnati Bengals, his Jets team has not been able to find that consistency he and his coaching staff currently seeks.

A lot of that has boiled down to the quarterback position. Perhaps this urgency could be pointed to as a great majority of the reason he and Mike LaFleur pegged Joe Flacco to start against the Miami Dolphins a week ago.

Although only speculation fuels why Flacco got the surprising start, guessing games are not required to understand the fans’ plight.

Flacco simply doesn’t move the optimistic needle—even if he was the right man for the job against Miami. Zach Wilson does.

Unfortunately, in Houston, Zach Wilson left a lot to be desired.

Wilson, 21, started the game as rusty as could be. His first completion that went for a first down forced Keelan Cole to reach back for a poorly-placed ball on a slant. The BYU product continued to misfire in the short game and often held the ball a bit too long at times—helping the sack number grow to five in total.

While not every sack was No. 2’s fault, the fans’ hopes and dreams surrounding the kid magically turning into Patrick Mahomes following a month of watching the action were quickly dashed.

Not that a code red should be set off throughout the building in Florham Park, but the clear roadmap that there’s a not that needs fixing is transparently present.

After the game, Wilson made sure to recognize the victory, but he also put forth familiar words that reflected self-ownership.

“Yeah, really good. Really good, especially just because I wasn’t happy with how I performed, just the ups and downs of it all,” Wilson told the media after his subpar performance. “I’ve got to just keep going. It’s all part of the process.”

The Jets’ first scoring drive—culminating in a 31-yard Matt Ammendola field goal on the team’s first drive of the game—featured a third-and-goal situation from the Texans’ 4-yard line. Elijah Moore, lined up solo to Wilson’s left side, beat his man on a whip route.

Wilson didn’t throw the ball.

The fact that Moore stumbled a bit out of the break matters very little. Based on the cornerback’s leverage and overall timing of the play, a confident Wilson would have thrown this ball with anticipation—thanks to properly reading the defender’s leverage in real time.

Instead, Houston picked up a timely sack. Instead, Wilson was up to his old tricks.

In spite of the Jets’ poor protection up front, quarterbacks must capitalize on quick-release opportunities when presented.

By no means is this an egregious quarterback error, especially for a young kid coming back from a four-game absence. But the notion that he’s still struggling mightily in the confidence department—as a confident Wilson decides where he’s going with the ball and throws with anticipation and touch as soon as Moore turns the corner’s hips inside—is the important callout.

What’s important from a coaching perspective, however, is that at least some progress was made. Wilson didn’t do everything wrong.

After starting horrendously, he came out in the third quarter firing pretty well, completing 7 of 9 passes during one stretch. He even scored the game-winning touchdown on a play that wasn’t designed as a keeper.

“It shows no limitations,” Saleh said of his quarterback on Monday when asked about the Wilson score. “The ball was actually designed to go to the running back, and he didn’t have an option to run. As was handing it off, he saw that the Texans had a fully loaded box, so he pulled it and made something happen, so good for him in that. But it was pretty cool.”

This is exactly why Wilson’s lack of improvisation through the air is at least somewhat concerning.

Still, a small step in the right direction is what the doctor ordered (and no, not the Jets’ doctor who currently starts at right guard). And after facing so many tough opponents—a very good Carolina Panthers defense, Bill Belichick and Vic Fangio represented the leaders of Wilson’s first three opponents—deserved breathing room came in the form of the Texans.

Houston, do we have a problem? I mean, yeah, we still do.

The Jets are still searching for the right formula that’ll take this thing from hoping enough puzzle pieces flip right side up to the point where those pieces can be chosen via importance.

At the very least, Robert Saleh’s optimistic mind continues to truck forward.

“It’s going to get somewhere quick, but the main focus is showing up to work, doing everything we can to get a little bit better, and finding ways to finish the season strong,” Saleh said.

It was the Texans who allowed the New York Jets to flip the bad-vibe script. It was Houston that allowed them to take a small yet deserved step forward.

It was Houston that instilled at least some sanity to a downtrodden fanbase that’s simply asking for competitive football and a crystalizing plan in its infancy—if only for seven days.

Houston at least allowed everybody involved to take a deep breath and say, “Whew; OK, winning is actually possible.”

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