Chrebet praised the progress of Zach Wilson and Braxton Berrios
If anyone in New York knows how to kickstart a metropolitan offense, it’s Chrebet, who returned to the virtual airwaves of The Underdog Jets Podcast this week to discuss the Jets’ recent 26-21 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday.
The win was headlined by heroics from quarterback Zach Wilson and receiver Braxton Berrios: Wilson put up 193 yards of offense (including 91 on the ground, a Jets team record for a passer) while Berrios took a kickoff back 103 yards for a touchdown.
New York (4-11) improved to 2-3 since Wilson returned from a sprained PCL injury on Nov. 28.
High-caliber offensive antics have been few and far between for the Jets, whose unit hasn’t ranked in the upper half of the league since 2015.
Chrebet played a sizable role in one of the Jets’ more recent offensive revolutions. In his rookie season of 1995, the Jets were dead-last in offense but, thanks in part to Chrebet’s efforts, made it up to fifth en route to the AFC East title.
Chrebet was in attendance for the exhilarating victory at MetLife Stadium, the Jets’ third of the season, cheering alongside his parents and son. While Wilson’s 52-yard touchdown run that opened the metropolitan scoring sent East Rutherford into a frenzy, things reached a fever pitch when Berrios immediately erased a Jacksonville lead through a touchdown that gave the Jets a permanent lead.
“The thing that got me most excited was Berrios’ kickoff returned for a touchdown,” Chrebet told co-host and Jets X-Factor co-founder/editor Robby Sabo. “Zach’s certainly got things going with the long run, we certainly had a decent start … but he’s done some great things, Berrios, this year. (We) certainly know that he is a free agent-to-be, and he’s showing us how valuable he’s been as a receiver or returner. So, it’s great to see him doing well and (he’s) definitely a guy I think they need to look to lock up with a long-term deal.”
In another case of deja vu, Berrios’ NFL story is remarkably similar to Chrebet’s in the sense that each rose from relatively small gridiron settings to make a major impact in New York’s aerial attack.
Berrios originally entered the league as a sixth-round draft pick in New England in 2018 and joined the Jets after he was part of the Patriots’ final cuts the year after. He has since become a reliable target in the slot as well as formidable return man, roles that Chrebet filled at the turn of the century.
In addition to his long special teams score, Berrios was the Jets’ top receiver with 37 yards on five receptions. His last was a 12-yard grab on a nine-yard third down with three minutes remaining that continued a drive that led to the Jets’ final points of the afternoon: a 20-yard Eddy Pineiro field goal that assured Jacksonville would need a touchdown to escape New York with a victory.
Chrebet told his son that the catch, and the ensuing run to the first after it, was the clinching factor in the Jets’ victory.
“They’re thinking about the kickoff return, but that play was a huge play in the game, and he’s continued to make those plays every week,” Chrebet said. It was a part of a “quick vs. fast” debate that has come to define Berrios’ brief, yet successful, NFL career so far.
“It’s not often that you’re going in a straight line on the field with the fact that guys like you and myself can change direction so quickly, that we get a jump on guys that have straight-line speed because we’re coming out brake, one, two steps were full speed already,” Chrebet said in describing Berrios’ on-field style. “(Defenders) aren’t even close to putting a hand on him.”
The emergence of Berrios is one of the primary reasons why Chrebet is optimistic about what the Jets have to offer in their offensive future. He’s also on board with what Wilson has to offer, fully convinced after Wilson escaped Jacksonville pressure to break loose for a touchdown in the first quarter, a six-pointer that Sabo compared to the antics of fellow BYU alum Steve Young.
“He saw that he kind of was in some trouble there. But this that escape ability that he has that something you can’t coach,” Chrebet said. “He just did a great job of putting his right foot in the ground and turning upfield.” He also said that Wilson’s final push to the end zone was a stark difference from what Trevor Lawrence’s groundwork produced on the Jaguars’ would-be winning drive.
“Nothing against Trevor Lawrence, but Zack put his right foot in the ground, cut it back inside and got the touchdown, Chrebet recalled. “Fourth quarter, last drive, Trevor Lawrence breaks it on a long run. There’s not a lot of time left, he needs to score a touchdown, he goes out of bounds. He’s 6-foot-6, 220 pounds. Put your head down, put your shoulder into the guy who’s standing still and, get into the end zone. He went out of bounds and they never scored.”
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Despite the lack of playoff stakes Sunday’s game had to offer, it certainly wasn’t short on drama, all of which Chrebet and Sabo covered in their time this week. Chrebet was happy to critique offensive lineman Connor McDermott’s surprising fourth-quarter touchdown (calling it a “great catch”) as well as tight ends coach Ron Middleton’s performance as acting head coach while Robert Saleh sat out due to COVID-19 protocols.
“I listened to him after the game. I liked everything he had to say, he certainly sounded like a head coach to me,” Chrebet said of Middleton. “He did all the right moves, like going on fourth down when they needed to. He was a big reason, with the rest of the coaching staff, why they got the win (on Sunday).”
The Jets return to action on Sunday afternoon, when they’ll play their final home game of the season against the defending champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday afternoon at MetLife Stadium (1 p.m. ET, Fox).
Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags