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NY Jets leading Browns 16-7 at halftime in Hall of Fame Game

Zach Wilson, New York Jets
Zach Wilson, New York Jets, Getty Images

The New York Jets made Darrelle Revis and Joe Klecko proud over their first 30 minutes of Hall of Fame play

So far, so good.

Future Canton inductee Aaron Rodgers didn’t need to take a snap to get his New York Jets era off to a good start. Obviously, the annual Hall of Fame Game is no true barometer for future success, but the Jets will likely take any good vibes they can get. They have unofficially opened the 2023-24 season with a 16-7 halftime lead against the Cleveland Browns on Thursday night at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium, the campus of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

The Jets earned their scores through a 10-yard scoring run for rookie Israel Abanikanda and three long field goals for Greg Zuerlein. With Deshaun Watson out, Kellen Mond found running back John Kelly Jr. for a three-yard score in the final minute of the half.

Jets (16)

PASSING: Zach Wilson (3-of-5, 65 yards)
RUSHING: Israel Abanikanda (8 carries, 26 yards, 1 TD)
RECEIVING: Malik Taylor (1 rec., 57 yards)

Browns (7)

PASSING: Kellen Mond (13-of-19, 92 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT)
RUSHING: John Kelly Jr. (10 carries, 42 yards)
RECEIVING: John Kelly Jr. (4 rec., 27 yards, 1 TD)

Zach’s Back…?

If you told Jets fans that Zach Wilson would be playing Canton-quality football by his third season during the 2021 draft, they’d likely be euphoric. Alas, that just means that Zach Wilson was playing expendable preseason snaps in Canton while a future resident, Aaron Rodgers, watched.

It’d be goofy to settle any position battles at the Hall of Fame Game, but Wilson looked, for lack of a better term, at peace during three drives of action on Thursday. Faced with relatively nothing to lose, Wilson played smart and let loose, earning most of his yardage on a 57-yard bomb to Malik Taylor when the Jets were in the shadow of their own end zone.

Depth of a Defense

A plain defense—in other words, no Sauce (Gardner)—hasn’t prevented the Jets’ defense from picking up where it left off. A third down sack from Bryce Huff forced Cleveland into a futile field goal attempt on the opening possession, a Javelin Guidry fumble recovery set up the latter of two Zuerlein field goals and the Jets scored their first touchdown on a Chazz Surratt interception. Blanking the Browns in the first effort until the very end will likely make for some happy moments on HBO next week, even if it came against competition that’s more likely to return to Canton as members of the rebooted USFL.

Special J

Not so lucky in the players trying to prove themselves department was Xavier Gipson, an undrafted rookie presumably keeping the punter returner’s seat warm for Mecole Hardman. The TCU alum muffed a punt that forced the Jets to start at their own five, though the deep ball from Wilson to Taylor negated that potential damage. Gipson, to his credit, later made up for the gaffe by taking Cleveland’s final kickoff of the half to the cusp of midfield that set up one more scoring attempt before the halftime gun went off.

On the other hand, it’s inspiring to see the Jets’ legs impress early on, especially after meandering at both the kicker and punter spots in each of the last two seasons: the returning Thomas Morstead has tallied 98 yards on two boots (including a 48-yarder that landed at Cleveland’s five-yard-line), while a pair of 50-plus-yard boots from Zuerlein opened New York scoring. Morestead and Zuerlein are perhaps two of the Jets’ biggest Thursday attractions partaking and so far they’re living up to that relative hype.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

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