What grade did NY Jets QB Zach Wilson earn against the New England Patriots?
From the perspective of fans watching at home, Wilson appeared to be a colossal liability that sunk the New York Jets in their costly 10-3 loss to the New England Patriots. All of the progress he made in his previous game was reversed in a nightmarish performance. Ultimately, Wilson’s display in Foxborough prompted the Jets to bench him for Mike White.
Was Wilson really that bad? Was he even more atrocious than people are giving him credit for? Or are people exaggerating the severity of Wilson’s woes in this one?
The QB Grades series exists to answer questions like those.
Before we get into Wilson’s performance, check out the explanation and glossary below if you are unfamiliar with how my QB Grades series works.
My goal with this grading system is to capture the true quality of the quarterback’s performance. Box score statistics are usually misleading, as they do not account for a variety of factors that determine whether a quarterback performed well or poorly on a given play.
After re-watching each play on the All-22 film, I grade it on a 0-to-10 scale. Once I’m finished grading each play, I take the average of all plays to form a 0-to-100 overall score with 50 being approximately league-average (based on my studying of numerous other quarterback performances across the league).
Here are just a handful of the primary factors that are taken into account in the grading of each play, and a basic description of what I’m looking for:
- Decision-making (Did the QB choose the best available option or did he leave a better play on the field? Regardless of if a ball is intercepted or not, did the QB put the ball in danger of being intercepted?)
- Throw difficulty (Clean pocket or pressured? Wide open or tight window? Stationary or on the move? More difficult throws are more valuable.)
- Accuracy/placement (Even if the pass is completed, was the ball placed in the best possible spot or did the receiver have to make an extra effort to catch it? Was the ball placed in a spot that maximized YAC? Did the QB protect his receiver from a big hit?)
- Game situation – score, time, field position, down and distance (Good decisions based on the clock/situation are crucial. Playing the sticks is also important – it is not a good play to complete a tightly covered 5-yard out on third-and-10 while a 15-yard dig is open, but a 5-yard out on third-and-4 is good.)
Ultimately, it’s all about context. Not all 40-yard completions are created equal. Not all interceptions are created equal. You need to watch a play to understand whether the quarterback did a good or bad job (and exactly how good or how bad it was). The raw result of a play cannot give you that answer.
When we analyze every play on film multiple times and grade the quarterback’s individual effort independent of his surroundings or the on-paper outcome of the play, we get a much better estimation of how well he actually played.
Of course, keep in mind that these grades are subjective. They are but one man’s opinion and are not intended to be viewed as gospel. Feel free to let me know your takes on my grades for these performances.
For each performance, I include a few metrics that help explain how Wilson arrived at his final grade.
These are some of the metrics I will break down for every Wilson outing.
Overall grade: 0-to-100 grade based on the average score of all plays analyzed. An estimation of individual performance quality.
Positive plays: Number of plays graded above 5.0: above-average efforts.
Negative plays: Number of plays graded below 5.0: below-average efforts.
Neutral plays: Number of plays graded as a 5.0: plays that are not noticeably good or bad. These are typically lost plays or plays in which the QB can hardly be evaluated: screens, batted passes, miscommunications, and unavoidable sacks are commonly graded as a 5.0.
Positive/negative ratio: Ratio of positive plays to negative plays. Defines the quarterback’s consistency level.
Average positive score: The average score of all positive plays. An indicator of how high the quarterback’s peaks were — a higher score indicates his best plays were often highlight-reel-worthy while a lower score indicates that his best plays were typically unspectacular.
Average negative score: The average score of all negative plays. An indicator of how low the quarterback’s valleys were — a higher score indicates his mistakes were typically minor while a lower score indicates that his mistakes were typically brutal.
Wow Factor: Combination of average positive score and average negative score. An indicator of the combined ability to produce outstanding moments and avoid big mistakes.
7+ plays: Number of plays graded 7.0 or better: elite moments. Big-time plays, if you will.
≤3 plays: Number of plays graded 3.0 or worse: brutal moments. The ones that make Jets fans throw things at their TV.
Zach Wilson’s Grade at New England Patriots
Let’s dig into everything that went into my 0-to-100 grade for Zach Wilson‘s ugly start against New England.
Was Wilson as terrible as most think?
Time to find out.
- Nania’s Overall Grade: 1.4 – (Average: 50, Great: 60+, Elite: 70+, Poor: <40, Awful: <30)
- Plays graded: 30
- Neutral plays: 6
- Positive plays: 9 (30.0%) – (Average: 56%, Phenomenal: >65%, Poor: <45%)
- Negative plays: 15 (50.0%) – (Average: 28%, Phenomenal: <20%, Poor: >40%)
- Positive-negative ratio: 0.60 – (Average: 2.00, Phenomenal: 3.00+, Poor: <1.00)
- Average positive: 5.78 – (Average: 5.90, High: 6.00+, Low: <5.80)
- Average negative: 3.12 – (Average: 3.80, High: 4.00+, Low: <3.60)
- Wow factor: 8.90 – (Average: 9.70, High: 10.00+, Low: <9.40)
- 7+ plays: 1 (3.3%) – (Average: 8%, Phenomenal: >12%, Poor: <4%)
- ≤3 plays: 8 (26.7%) – (Average: 8%, Phenomenal: <4%, Poor: >12%)
- Box score stats: 9/22 for 77 yards, 0 TD, 0 INT (3.5 Y/A, 50.8 QB rating). 4 sacks for 33 yards. 3 rushes for 26 yards.
After taking flight in a very promising game against Buffalo, Wilson not only crashed back down to Earth, but he plunged through the surface and into its core.
This is the worst game I have seen Zach Wilson play in the NFL. And it’s not even close.
My final grade for Wilson was 1.4, making it his worst game in my system by 19.6 points (surpassing the Patriots game from three weeks earlier). It is also worse than any grade I ever gave to Sam Darnold during his Jets career.
Wilson actually got off to a decent start in this one. Through his first 12 plays, which spanned through the first 29 minutes of the game, he was fine. Not good, but respectable.
Then, with 0:59 on the clock in the second quarter, Wilson badly overthrew a wide-open Tyler Conklin, hitting Patriots safety Devin McCourty on the numbers for an easy interception (which he dropped).
Wilson’s confidence was shot from that point onward. His second-half performance might be the worst stretch of quarterback play I have ever seen from a Jets signal-caller.
In the second half, I graded Wilson negatively on 11 of 16 plays. I only gave him one positive grade over that span. So, his consistency was brutal over the latter portion of the game. He could not do anything right.
But even worse than his consistency was the severity of his mistakes. I scored Wilson with a grade of 3.0 or worse on a career-high total of eight plays in this game. His mistakes tended to be extremely ugly since he was frequently placed in a good position to succeed. Wilson missed an egregious number of open receivers (both in terms of accuracy and failing to target them) and often did so from a clean pocket. When you are failing in favorable conditions, it significantly increases the harshness of your mistakes.
Wilson’s overall grade this season has plunged to 39.9, which is well short of the 47.6 grade I had for him in his first year. We are seven starts into his second season and I feel he has regressed, especially in comparison to the latter portion of his rookie campaign.
Zach Wilson’s film at New England Patriots
Let’s take a look at some of the key plays from Wilson’s performance against New England.
For each play in the breakdown, I’ll list the grade I gave him for that play. Anything above 5.0 is positive and helps push his overall game grade above 50.0, and vice versa for anything below 5.0.
2nd & 14 – Qtr: 1, (9:09) (Shotgun) Z.Wilson scrambles left end pushed ob at NYJ 33 for 14 yards (J.Bentley).
Really nice play here by Wilson to get things started. There is nothing open on second-and-14, so Wilson takes it himself and manages to sneak up the sideline and get enough yardage for the conversion. Grade: 6.0
1st & 10 – Qtr: 1, (8:54) (Shotgun) Z.Wilson pass incomplete short middle to D.Mims.
Wilson comes out of the RPO and slings a perfect ball to Denzel Mims on the dig route. You have to catch this if you’re Mims. He goes for the body catch and it leads to a drop. Grade: 6.0
3rd & 7 – Qtr: 1, (8:12) (Shotgun) Z.Wilson pass incomplete short right to E.Moore.
Wilson comes up way short on a third-down throw to Elijah Moore, who runs a curl. I think there’s a possibility Moore carried this route too deep, but even if he cut it a couple of yards shorter, the ball still wouldn’t have been catchable.
The bigger issue is the decision. To the outside of Moore, Garrett Wilson is running a comeback against a corner who is bailing. It’s a golden opportunity for Zach to just put the ball near the first down marker and let Garrett come back to it. This is the throw Zach should have chosen. Grade: 4.0
2nd & 9 – Qtr: 2, (11:23) (Shotgun) Z.Wilson scrambles left end ran ob at NE 18 for 6 yards (J.Bentley).
While this play occurred before the start of Wilson’s second-half slump, I think it was his most egregious mistake of the game.
Mims breaks wide-open on a post. While standing in a fairly clean pocket (there’s back-side pressure, but it doesn’t arrive early enough to deter this potential throw), Wilson reads Mims’s side of the field and is looking directly toward Mims while he is already behind the deepest defender. Showing gun-shyness, Wilson does not pull the trigger. He instead tucks the ball and runs for six yards.
On television, this looks like a nice, safe play by the QB, but the film reveals that he actually blew an easy touchdown.
There is no safety in the deep middle. That’s the first thing Wilson should have registered here. After the snap, the single-high safety squats and sinks down, leaving the middle of the field open. This should alert Wilson that Mims’s post could become an option. After this, Wilson then should have seen that the outside cornerback to Mims’s side had dropped off of him to stay on top of Garrett’s route, passing Mims off to nobody. This should be a freebie touchdown but the Jets instead come away with nothing.
This is one of the most inexcusable blunders I have ever seen from Wilson. I believe this single moment likely played a huge role in pushing the Jets’ coaches toward the decision to bench Wilson. Seeing this play during Monday’s film review had to be intensely frustrating for the team. Grade: 1.0
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3rd & 8 – Qtr: 2, (2:00) (Shotgun) Z.Wilson pass short right to E.Moore ran ob at NYJ 49 for 13 yards.
Interestingly enough, Wilson responded to his Mims mistake by delivering one of his most impressive throws of the season. The anticipation he shows on this comeback to Moore is phenomenal. Wilson starts winding up long before Moore starts his break. Wilson puts it in a perfect spot and the Jets convert on third-and-long. This was an absolute beauty, but unfortunately, it is the last of the good plays that we will see in this film review. Grade: 8.0
3rd & 2 – Qtr: 2, (1:01) (Shotgun) Z.Wilson pass incomplete short middle to T.Conklin.
Here it is – the beginning of a downward spiral that ultimately landed Wilson in the Jets’ QB3 spot.
There isn’t much to break down here. Tyler Conklin gets open on third-and-2 and Wilson makes the correct decision to target him. Wilson just airmails it, mostly due to lazy lower-body mechanics. The miss is so bad that the ball hits Devin McCourty on the numbers for what should’ve been the easiest interception of his life.
Plays like this are killers for a football team. The play-call works, a player gets open, and the pocket is decent. Everything is set up for a third-down conversion to put the Jets in field goal range. But it all goes to waste solely because of the quarterback’s inaccuracy.
Missing a throw is one thing. All quarterbacks miss some throws. But when a throw is this wide open and you miss it this badly, that’s a whiff of the highest degree. It’s especially true in this case considering Wilson not only botched the easy throw, but he put the ball right in a defender’s bread basket.
This play clearly lingered in Wilson’s head as he went into the locker room. He was never the same from this point onward. Grade: 1.0
1st & 10 – Qtr: 3, (14:54) (Shotgun) Z.Wilson pass incomplete short left to B.Berrios.
Wilson’s mind was frenzied in the second half. The simple stuff became a chore.
Here, the Jets fake a screen to Braxton Berrios in hopes of creating a window for Conklin up the seam on the other side. It’s fairly successful, as Conklin does have room if Wilson puts it back-shoulder, but that window to Conklin is definitely tight. I am okay with Wilson passing on Conklin here.
Wilson does the right thing and locates his checkdown. But he whizzes it over Berrios’s head. Grade: 3.0
3rd & 8 – Qtr: 3, (7:49) (Shotgun) Z.Wilson pass incomplete deep middle to D.Mims.
It’s tough to figure out what Wilson is thinking here. He goes for Mims on a post route but comes up way short. It seems like he either missed it or thought Mims was going to flatten his route and run a dig; the latter option wouldn’t make sense considering Moore is running a dig on the other side and you’ll almost never see two dig routes going into each other. So, you have to wonder if Wilson is unaware of the routes here.
If he just missed the throw, that’s probably a good thing, because Mims wasn’t open and it was a bad decision to target him. Putting that ball where it’s supposed to go would either lead to an interception or Mims getting clobbered.
I think Zach should have gone to Garrett here. I included the end-zone angle to provide a better view of the separation Garrett has on his slant. That throw is there. Zach should have seen the safety in the deep middle, crossed off Mims as an option, and immediately gone down to Garrett.
Side note: Check out Garrett’s body language after the play. You could see the frustrations boiling for Zach’s offensive teammates on multiple plays throughout this game. Grade: 3.5
1st & 10 – Qtr: 3, (4:10) (Shotgun) Z.Wilson pass incomplete short left. thrown away from outside the pocket
Look, I am definitely not going to crush Zach for this. It would be a fantastic play. But there’s a shot to do something special here and he is unable to take advantage.
The Patriots do not have anyone in the deep middle, leaving Garrett in a massive mismatch as he is running a post against a bailing cornerback with outside leverage. There is no way for that CB to defend this route. Garrett creates plenty of separation as he breaks toward the deep middle.
Zach is flushed out of the pocket due to a loss in pass protection by Connor McGovern, who allows interior pressure. I get it. It’s the safe play. But if Wilson just stood tall in the pocket and accepted a hit, all he had to do is lob this up over the middle and let Garrett run under it. Once he saw the safeties stay low and leave the middle of the field open, he should have been all over that post route.
Again, I will not destroy Wilson for this one due to the pressure, but there was a game-changing play available here. Grade: 4.5
1st & 10 – Qtr: 3, (:06) (Shotgun) Z.Wilson pass incomplete short left to D.Mims.
Wilson misses yet another easy pass in the flat, this time on a designed screen to Mims. Missing high to a 6-foot-3 receiver with 34-inch arms is a difficult thing to do, but Wilson pulls it off here.
We’ve been talking about Wilson needing to eliminate the missed layups since the very beginning of his Jets career. No progress has been made in this area. Grade: 3.0
1st & 10 – Qtr: 4, (10:52) (Shotgun) Z.Wilson sacked at NYJ 10 for -8 yards (K.Dugger).
This sack is on Wilson. On first-and-10, Mike LaFleur draws up a quick-game concept to get Wilson going. It’s a three-step drop with a hitch and an out on each side with the back staying in to protect. There’s no time for hesitation here – Wilson needs to hit the depth of his drop and either make a throw or get rid of the football. He has Mims open on the out route and starts winding up to make the throw, but inexplicably hesitates and holds onto the ball. It leads to a sack as the Patriots brought a well-executed blitz.
It seems like the dropping edge defender (#48) is what deterred Wilson from making this throw. I don’t get why he thinks this is any reason not to throw the ball. The defender’s hips are turned inside and his eyes aren’t even on the QB. He is not going to do anything to stop the throw. Drop back and get the ball out in rhythm with confidence.
This should be a nice completion for 5+ yards on first down. Instead, it’s a sack that kills the drive. Grade: 3.0
3rd & 3 – Qtr: 4, (5:26) (Shotgun) Z.Wilson pass short left to G.Wilson pushed ob at NYJ 33 for 6 yards (J.Mills).
Zach throws a key third-down conversion to Garrett here but the throw isn’t ideal. Garrett has to go down and dive for it despite having good separation. The broadcast replay showed that Garrett may not have truly made the catch; luckily, the Jets got the ball snapped in time to avoid a review. In reality, though, this was likely an incomplete pass and that’s more so on Zach for throwing a difficult pass to catch. Grade: 4.0
2nd & 13 – Qtr: 4, (4:22) (Shotgun) Z.Wilson pass incomplete deep left to T.Johnson (K.Dugger).
Tough throw here, but Ty Johnson creates separation on a wheel route and Wilson underthrows him a bit, forcing him to slow down. It allows the defender to close the ground and deflect the pass. Grade: 4.5
1st & 10 – Qtr: 4, (1:52) (Shotgun) Z.Wilson pass incomplete short right to E.Moore.
The Jets have two receivers open for a first down and Zach misses both of them.
Zach starts to his left before moving to his right. Once he gets to his right, he should be able to see that Moore is in the process of winning on a comeback and deliver the throw. He declines the option and turns his eyes back toward the middle; luckily, the pass protection is good enough for him to even have enough time to do this.
At this point, he’s got Garrett coming over the middle, but he declines that, too (or he just flat-out doesn’t see it). Zach then comes back to the right and tries to hit Moore, flicking the ball without setting himself. It’s too late as Moore runs out of room along the sideline. The ball is too far outside anyway.
You can see Wilson’s indecisiveness on display here. A confident Wilson would have read the field from left to right and pulled the trigger as soon as he saw Moore’s leverage against the defender. Even if he didn’t like that and went back to the middle, a dialed-in Wilson would be able to see Garrett finding a soft spot and make that throw. Instead, what we get is Wilson darting his eyes all over the field without conviction, and he uncorks a throw that is late and inaccurate. Grade: 3.0
2nd & 10 – Qtr: 4, (1:45) (Shotgun) Z.Wilson pass incomplete short right to D.Mims (Jo.Jones).
Wilson is late on this out route to Mims and also puts the ball too far inside. This should be an interception that essentially wins the game for New England, but luckily, the Patriots drop another one. Grade: 2.0
3rd & 1 – Qtr: 4, (:32) (Shotgun) Z.Wilson pass short right to Mi.Carter to NYJ 32 for -2 yards (K.Dugger).
This was the final nail in the coffin for Wilson’s tenure as the Jets’ starting quarterback (for now). On third-and-1 with under a minute remaining, the Jets have a chance to extend their potential game-winning drive. All Wilson needed to do was make an exceedingly simple play to keep the drive going. He could not get it done.
Wilson starts to his left with Conklin’s out route. That’s not there, so he continues in the progression.
And there he is: Elijah Moore is wide open on a drag route over the middle. It’s an easy first down. The two inside linebackers drop back after the snap, leaving space in the short-middle area.
But Wilson passes on it. He turns to Michael Carter in the flat on the right side and throws the ball to Carter, where is immediately met by two eagerly waiting defenders.
You cannot ask for better execution on a third-and-1 passing concept. The pocket is clean. There is a shallow in-breaking route that is uncovered. This is exactly how LaFleur dreamed this play would go. And Wilson failed to capitalize, costing the Jets a win and first place in the AFC East. Grade: 1.0
It’s time for Zach Wilson to take a seat
Some might think it’s an overreaction to crucify Wilson for this game after what he did just one game earlier against the Bills. I disagree with that. This benching has been brewing for quite some time. It’s not a reaction to one game. Let’s not forget that Wilson had three consecutive subpar performances prior to the Bills game; the latter two games of that stretch were very bad.
As impressed as I was with Wilson’s performance against the Bills, I made sure to note in my review that he needed to maintain that progress over multiple games for it to mean anything. Wilson failed to do that.
It would be a different story if Wilson came out and had a “meh” game to follow up the Buffalo performance, but he had the worst game of his career. That’s too catastrophic to shrug off.
Wilson will now get a chance to sit back and reset his mind while Mike White takes the reigns.
I applaud Robert Saleh for making this decision. I think benching Wilson was the best decision for both the Jets and Wilson himself.
For the Jets, they could no longer afford to watch a playoff spot slip away while waiting out Wilson’s growing pains. A message needed to be sent to the team. It wasn’t fair how Wilson was continuously wasting the opportunities created by his teammates. Continuing to start Wilson would run the risk of players losing belief and motivation; just look at the body language of Wilson’s offensive teammates after he botched plays.
Saleh needed to signal that the team is taking its playoff push seriously by proving everyone will be held accountable. He accomplished that by sitting Wilson down. The team has been given a new jolt of faith after Wilson cost the Jets two victories in the last three weeks.
For Wilson, some time on the sidelines will allow him to clear his head and get in a better position mentally. Somewhere along the line, Wilson lost himself. Now he must find himself again. The QB we have seen in the NFL is not the QB who put together an incredible reel of film at BYU in 2020. He had question marks in college, for sure, but he was not missing screen passes and failing to target wide-open receivers. Those issues are the product of a severe lack of confidence.
Wilson will also get the chance to hone the fundamentals of his game. I’m not sure is going to completely fix his footwork and throwing mechanics over the next few weeks – a whole offseason is needed for that – but without the pressure of preparing for a new opponent each week, he can step back and focus on his own game to figure out how he can get better as an individual.
I’m sure Wilson will be back on the field for New York at some point. He needs to make the most of his time off, using it to ensure he is a better player when his second chance arrives.
For now, it’s Mike White time. He will be the subject of our grading system next week. Last season, I scored White with a grade of 46.1 across his four appearances. Can White improve upon that in his second season as a starting quarterback?