Zach Wilson and the offense’s hot start could not alter the New York Jets’ all-time fate against the Philadelphia Eagles
EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ—Change is difficult and fleeting, yet oh so appetizing. Nothing screams “leader” or “legend” or “outstanding human being” more than fearlessly invading the belly of a beast desperately needing a cure for the upset stomach that ails it.
Perhaps no beast requires a cure more than the one that makes its home at 1 Jets Drive in Florham Park, NJ.
Many a human has taken on the challenge that is turning around the New York Jets football program, only for its fanbase to witness many an individual fail. Robert Saleh and Joe Douglas represent the current head coach-general manager iteration, and yet, the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Unusually hot start? Check.
Another defeat at the hands of the Philadephia Eagles? Double-check (with the discount excluded for the Jets fans who attended the “defense-less” game).
Zach Wilson’s early-game confidence was evident
Braxton Berrios‘s game-opening 79-yard kickoff return that set the Jets up at the Eagles’ 21-yard line helped Zach Wilson get off to a flying start. After four Tevin Coleman rush attempts—the second of which featured a first down—Wilson found Elijah Moore on a slant to open the game’s scoring.
Zach Wilson finds Elijah Moore for the game's opening score after the Braxton Berrios sets them up on the big return. #Jets pic.twitter.com/EGDFgZGJ8d
— Jets X-Factor (@jetsxfactor) December 5, 2021
The good times rolled for No. 2 all first half, believe it or not.
Wilson recorded a rushing touchdown, courtesy of a quarterback sneak on the next drive, and he capped off the Jets’ third drive with a 1-yard touchdown strike to tight end Ryan Griffin on fourth down.
GRIFFFFF#PHIvsNYJ on CBS pic.twitter.com/kNHrepNzSL
— New York Jets (@nyjets) December 5, 2021
Three offensive drives, three Wilson-led touchdowns that all came in the first half—two of which occurred in the first quarter.
Alert the presses, call in the National Guard, or think of something nutty, because this sort of thing doesn’t happen to the 2021 Jets. Since Week 1’s frustrating loss in Carolina against Sam Darnold and the Panthers, no NFL offense (specifically led by Wilson) has struggled more in the early going of games than the Jets.
Coming into this Week 13 showdown, Wilson’s first quarter stat line hurt the eyes more than year-old daily contacts: 10 of 28 for 75 yards, no touchdowns and five interceptions. Wilson’s hot start on this first Sunday in December allowed the Jets fan to dream about that first-ever win against Philadelphia—the only organization the Jets have never defeated.
“Yeah, obviously it started off with Braxton (Berrios) with a great return,” Wilson told the media after the Jets’ 33-18 loss to the Eagles. “He put us in great field position and right there we had some good momentum. Then, (it was) just execution from there.”
Everybody from an offensive perspective seemingly contributed to the hot start—one that allowed MetLife Stadium to get into a rare frenzied state from the jump (courtesy of the Berrios return).
“I thought the guys up front did a good job, the running backs ran hard, got us into a good situation,” Wilson added. “I thought (Matt) LeFleur called a great play for us to get a touchdown on the first drive and it’s just the momentum we needed.”
The Jets’ kid quarterback suddenly looked confident. He looked poised. He appeared ready to take that next leap up the confidence chart he so desperately needed.
And guess what? For the most part, that’s exactly what happened on Sunday.
Finishing with 226 yards and three total touchdowns to one late interception on 23 of 38 passing, No. 2 followed up a shaky return performance in Houston with a clear building block of an outing in New Jersey.
“His footwork was awesome,” Saleh said of his quarterback after the game. “His eyes, his tempo, playing within the scheme and not trying to overanalyze, not trying to make defenses pay just because you might know what they’re in—I thought this was, by far, his best game in terms of just working progression and playing within the scheme.”
There was just one nagging problem on this day: The Jets defense had to take the field.
The Jets’ defense remained the same: Horrendous
If not for the natural flow of football—that features defensive units having to play the game—Wilson could have built upon his strong first half even further.
“I wish we could have kept him in rhythm in the second half because I thought he was getting ready to have an explosive game overall,” Saleh added.
New York reached pay dirt on its first three drives of the day, but so did Philadelphia. In fact, Nick Sirianni’s offense scored on each of its first seven possessions.
- Field goal
- Field goal
- Field goal
- Field goal
Not until the 1:54 mark of the fourth quarter did Jeff Ulbrich’s unit force the Eagles to punt.
The more things change, the more they stay the same. Oh, the pain.
From the horrendous outing in New England after the bye to the embarrassing effort in Indianapolis in prime time, this Jets defense doesn’t have a clue when offenses showcase a gap-principled rushing attack.
Miles Sanders and the talented Eagles’ offensive line gashed New York for 185 yards on 41 carries, good enough for a healthy 4.5 yards-per-carry mark. And they did so without their dual-threat quarterback, Jalen Hurts, whose ground-game presence causes fits for NFL defenses.
Kenny G with more beautiful tunes@KENNETHGAINWEL | #PHIvsNYJ pic.twitter.com/REJL8POFd7
— Philadelphia Eagles (@Eagles) December 5, 2021
Counters, powers, draws, traps and anything that involves patience from an offensive perspective, has gashed the Jets defense all season. Saleh’s attacking one-gap 4-3 front continues to overplay rushing calls that feature longer-developing man-blocking concepts.
The play-side aggressively shoots downhill while the back-side doesn’t stay at home—all while Nathan Shepherd is lying on the ground. It’s part of the reason why the Eagles ate up 8:22 of the clock before Wilson and the offense could even touch the ball in the second half.
Philly’s 14-play, 70-yard drive that resulted in a 32-yard Jake Elliott field goal displaced Wilson’s rhythm and put the score at two possessions (27-18)—something the Eagles would not relinquish.
“They had the ball to finish the first half. Then, they go eight minutes,” Saleh said. “And then, it’s a quick drive for us and then they have the ball again for however many minutes it was. You’re looking at over an hour of real-time where our offense was on the field for just a quick minute. So yeah, it does, especially when it’s cold and you’re trying to stay warm and in rhythm. All of that matters.”
Much more of the same happened by way of third-down defense and boneheaded penalties, as well.
Time and again, the Jets showcased a heavy at-the-line defensive look on third down. As per usual, the offense took advantage. Gardner Minshew’s 22-yard pickup to Quez Watkins, late in the first half on third and 19, set up Elliott’s first field goal of the game (at the 19-second mark of the second quarter).
On third and 4, near the start of the second quarter, Minshew found tight end Dallas Goedert for a 25-yard wheel-route touchdown.
.@GardnerMinshew5 to @goedert33 x2#PHIvsNYJ | #FlyEaglesFly pic.twitter.com/nUViabhNdv
— Philadelphia Eagles (@Eagles) December 5, 2021
Yet again, the Jets’ familiar at-the-line with press across the field comes back to burn them, as a simple slant-wheel concept works to perfection against the non-staggered coverage.
Linebacker C.J. Mosley took a huge five-yard penalty when he was nabbed for encroachment on a huge fourth-and-4 situation late in the third quarter.
In spite of any possible Jason Kelce movement upfront, the Jets’ defensive leader knew he made a mistake, as he called it an “ill-advised play by me” after the loss.
C.J. Mosley on his big fourth-down encroachment penalty:
“Just a bad play by me. … Just a very ill-advised by play me.” Despite any potential Kelce flinch, Mosley understands that, in such a situation, he has to be more careful and not chance it. #Jets
— Robby Sabo (@RobbySabo) December 5, 2021
Last but not least is the kicking situation, something that travels directly up into the front office. Newcomer Alex Kessman, a kid with no experience, missed his first two extra points the very same week the Jets chose him over incumbent Matt Ammendola (cut earlier this week).
Since Douglas’s arrival in 2019, quality placekicker and New York Jets go as well together as peanut butter and cabbage.
No respect … for now? Perhaps? Maybe?
In the end, while Zach Wilson’s progress is a delightful footnote, the Jets as a program are still mired in an unhealthy state in need of a cure. Saleh’s coaching staff continues to falter while the same situational errors continue.
Now 0-12 all-time against the Eagles and working on their 11th straight non-playoff season, the 3-9 Jets are the Rodney Dangerfield of the NFL. Eagles defensive lineman Fletcher Cox knows what I’m throwing down.
“Right now, teams are not respecting us,” Mosley said after the game.
Mosley explained how the Eagles wouldn’t shake the Jets’ hands prior to the coin toss and threw in a Dangerfield-esque bit about Cox laughing at them during a sequence in which Saleh argued with the officials.
C.J. Mosley, after the loss, brings up the respect conversation:
“Right now, teams are not respecting us.” He mentioned Fletcher Cox laughing at the #Jets at one point when Saleh was arguing with the official.
— Robby Sabo (@RobbySabo) December 5, 2021
Whether or not Mosley put this into the public intentionally for motivational purposes or not is not known. What is understood is just how universal and deserving the sentiment is among the professionals.
In actuality, the Jets aren’t even the Rodney Dangerfield of the NFL. Dangerfield’s “no respect” bit was just that: a bit. One of the most iconic comedians of the 20th century garnered as much respect as anybody, but it did, indeed, take some time to arrive at that prestigious point.
The Suffolk County native sold aluminum siding prior to finally busting out in his late 40s. Although it’s true that people don’t genuinely change who they are, deep down, the situations in which they maneuver absolutely can, and the impact that can be had is absolutely realized.
Robert Saleh is a good football man. Joe Douglas is an excellent personnel mind. Zach Wilson has all the talent in the world. But until they put it together in a way that deserves respect, the much larger beast that is the entire NFL will continue pushing them around.
Special humans are necessary to invade a beastly situation nobody believes is curable. On this day, not even transparent Zach Wilson progress allowed the New York Jets salvation.
Eventually, the football world will find out if the people in place are good enough to turn this thing around; but for now, even if some things do change, the majority of it remains the same.
Zero wins, 12 losses … against the Philadelphia Eagles, all time—the same team that finally and officially broke through a mere few seasons ago with the current New York Jets general manager in the Southeast Pennsylvania building.
Change is difficult.
Whenever the Philadelphia Eagles show face on the schedule, the point is driven home with a jackhammer—all the way to Florham Park in a more-than-casually-cruel fashion.
His footwork may have been “awesome”, his accuracy and mental toughness were not. There were too many throws that were tougher catches than needed to be by the receivers, there were too many opportunities left on the field, and the mental meltdowns are not good. The third TD was on a 4th down play because on 3rd down he missed a WIDE open Moore in the end zone. The subsequent TD pass to Griffin was not an easy catch and Griff was also WIDE open. He still air-mails or decapitates backs out of the backfield, and the INT came one play after he yet again missed a WIDE open Moore. He mentally went into the tank and tried to guide a pass because he missed Moore and lofted a ruptured duck over the middle right to the DB. At the end of the day this was one good half and one bad half.
Yes, you may say I’m nitpicking but this is the #2 overall pick and I think it’s fair at this point in the season to expect him to complete passes to backs out of the backfield without taking their head off, and hit wide open receivers without them having to make a difficult catch or misfire all together. Now, to be fair he did have a handful of very nice throws and didn’t look as lost as he’s been in previous starts, but a game like this in week 3 or 4 is encouraging, a game like this in week 12 leaves me with as much doubt as ever. Just my opinion from what I see on the field. I’m not there everyday but then again, nobody who writes about the team is.