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This Jets season is all about Zach Wilson. Everything they do is about developing their young, franchise quarterback. How he plays, how quickly he learns, is even more important than how much they win.
That’s why any time he’s forced to miss with the knee injury he suffered on Sunday in the Jets’ 54-13 loss in New England will be just terrible news. And if he’s forced to miss significant time with this injury – especially if it’s the rest of the season – it’ll be a disaster that will leave the Jets basically starting all over next year.
First things first: The Jets seem to think they’ve avoided the worst-case scenario. Robert Saleh even said “initially we feel good” about what they believe is an injury to the PCL in Wilson’s right knee. Even Wilson said that “would probably be the best-case scenario.”
If it’s not torn, he’s probably right. But there’s a wide range of possibilities as the Jets await the results of an MRI scheduled for Monday back in New York. A PCL sprain could keep him out just a week or two if it’s mild, or perhaps a month if it’s more severe. If there’s a tear, Wilson’s absence could be a lot longer than that.
But however long it is, any absence from Wilson is a setback for this rebuilding program, because if there’s one thing that’s been crystal clear through the first six games it's that Wilson needs as much practice as he can get. He has had flashes of brilliance surrounded mostly be monumental struggles. And with very few exceptions, the offense under his direction has simply been bad.
The great hope for the Jets has been that the more he practices, the more he plays, the more that he sees of himself on film the more he’ll learn and the better he would get. They believed strongly that all these early struggles would pay off and everyone would see obvious progress from Wilson and the offense by the end of the year.
What kind of progress could they possibly make with Wilson standing on the sidelines watching Mike White play and listening to the play calls through the headphone in his ear?
“Any time you miss reps it’s not ideal,” Saleh said. “But I don’t think it’s going to be that big of a setback.”
Maybe that would’ve been true if the Jets had signed an experienced backup quarterback. There have been plenty of rookie quarterbacks who have benefited from a few weeks off to clear their head and watch a veteran take their place. That sometimes has the added advantage of settling down a young offense, giving them a chance to grow with a quarterback who can put them in better positions to make plays.
But the Jets decided to take a risk in the offseason by not signing that kind of veteran. They decided they’d be OK with just White, whose first NFL snap came on Sunday after he took over for Wilson. And while they do have 35-year-old Josh Johnson on the practice squad, he hasn’t thrown a pass in a game since 2018.
Johnson may get signed to the active roster and suit up as White’s backup, but the Jets’ plan seems to be to roll with White until Wilson returns, however long that is. That means another quarterback getting on-the-job training while the young kids around him are trying to figure out how to play in the NFL, too. And that’s not good for any of them.
And it couldn’t come at a worse time, either. The Jets are now coming off a humiliating loss – one in which they got their “f---ing teeth knocked in,” according to their head coach, despite having two weeks to try and fix their many problems. It will be hard enough for them to pick up the pieces as they head into a game against the dangerous Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday. Now they’ll probably have to do it without their young leader, too.
Wilson said he’ll “try to come back as fast as possible” but it didn’t sound like it would be soon. He said his knee “twisted,” that he felt a “pop,” and that he could feel something was “off” and “loose” in his knee. He stayed down on the ground for a long time after the injury because he “was just thinking of the worst scenario in my head.”
The worst scenario, of course, would be a tear that requires surgery and would probably end his season, putting him and the Jets pretty close to starting over in the spring of 2022. But if he ends up out longer than a week or two, it could be a pretty bad scenario, too.
They need him on the field so he can get better, so this offense can grow together and figure out their issues before the end of this year. They are counting on seeing some progress in December that they can use as a springboard to respectability next year.
That’s why the sight of Wilson limping off the field and to and from his postgame press conference on Sunday was so frightening and so disheartening. He’s just too important to everything the Jets are trying to do and everything they’re building. They can’t afford a significant injury to the most important person in their franchise.
Every minute he’s not out on the field with his teammates feels like it will amount to nothing more than a big waste of time for everyone, where no real significant progress will be possible. And if he’s out a long time, this will feel like even more of a lost season than it already is.