EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Zach Wilson had a message for the Patriots after the Jets lost on Sunday, 22-17.
“Yeah, we’ll have these guys in two weeks,” Wilson said.
Technically it’s in three weeks — both the Patriots and Jets have a bye before their Nov. 20 rematch in Foxborough.
But no one on the Patriots is scared about the prospect of facing Wilson and the Jets again. If anything, they are salivating.
Wilson, the No. 2 overall draft pick in 2021, almost single-handedly held the Jets back in Sunday’s loss. He threw an interception late in the second quarter that led to 3 points for the Patriots. He threw a second interception late in the third quarter that thwarted the Jets’ comeback attempt. And he threw a third interception early in the fourth quarter that led to the Patriots’ game-icing field goal.
It was Wilson’s second career game with at least three interceptions. The other one? A four-interception performance last year in a loss to — you guessed it — the Patriots.
Wilson did throw for 355 yards on Sunday, but most of it was in garbage time. And his mistakes were absolute killers.
“They’re self-inflicted wounds,” Jets coach Robert Saleh said. “Football is hard enough. We just don’t need to compound it by making mistakes that help them.”
Sunday’s loss dropped the Jets to 5-3 and snapped their four-game win streak — accomplished in spite of Wilson, not because of him. He averaged 173 yards and threw just one touchdown pass in the four wins, but also threw just two interceptions, both in Week 4 at Pittsburgh.
Sunday, the sloppy play and turnovers returned, and the result was a dispirited loss to an AFC East rival.
“I just had some boneheaded plays,” Wilson said. “I need to play better.”
Wilson was particularly upset with his second interception, which was thrown to Patriots safety Devin McCourty late in the third quarter. Wilson said he tried to throw the ball out of bounds, but he misjudged how quickly Matthew Judon was closing in on him. The third interception, also to McCourty, was a case of Wilson trying too hard to make a play while his team trailed, 19-10.
“The one I was trying to throw away and just missed inside with Judon closing in,” Wilson said. “The last one there was no indecisiveness. It was just not smart.”
The question with the Jets is how long they are willing to put up with Wilson not playing smart. The Jets have a surprisingly decent team this year, having built a stout defense and surrounding Wilson with a deep group of playmakers. Even with the loss, they’re still in second place in the AFC East.
But Sunday’s loss proved the Jets won’t go anywhere until Wilson, still only 23, can get his head screwed on right.
There’s no doubting Wilson’s impressive arm strength and athleticism, but the Jets may be better off with a caretaker such as backups Mike White or Joe Flacco, who won’t make highlight-reel plays but at least won’t be as careless with the ball.
Saleh, though, said the Jets still believe in Wilson and went out of his way to defend him.
“We’ve got to find ways to help him,” Saleh said. “He’s shown flashes of good football. Everyone in this locker room still has his back. We’re going to continue to work with him. We’ve got all the faith in the world in him. He’s just got to continue to find ways to be better.”
Wilson’s teammates said all the right things after the loss, saying they still have confidence in their young quarterback.
“Zach’s been doing a great job managing the game, not turning the ball over, and we won four in a row because of it,” cornerback D.J. Reed said. “It is what it is. It’s one of those games, he’s going to get better and learn from this.”
But the Jets’ locker room is going to implode if Wilson doesn’t start holding up his end of the bargain.
“Regardless of what it looks like, I feel like each game I’m learning, getting better,” Wilson said. “There’s always things that happen and sometimes you sit there and wonder, ‘Why did I just do that?’ But it’s part of football, got to move on.”
This was an opportunity for a big statement win for the Jets. They hadn’t beaten the Patriots in 12 tries. They came into the game with the better record for the first time since 2001. Saleh encouraged the fans to get into the stadium early so they could get loud. They spent all week talking about payback and revenge for last year’s 54-13 loss to the Patriots.
Instead, they fell flat, thanks to their reckless quarterback.
“The divisional games are always big. This one hurts,” Wilson said. “We’ll watch this film and learn, get better, get rid of those mistakes. We’ll be good.”
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Ben Volin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.