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Will Zach Wilson ever get his job back?

Deseret News 11/29/2022 Brandon Judd
New York Jets quarterback Zach Wilson (2) reacts against the Chicago Bears during an NFL football game on Sunday, Nov. 27, 2022, in East Rutherford, N.J. The Jets’ beleaguered former starting quarterback watched from the sideline as his replacement, Mike White, had a stellar game last week. Now the question is, can White keep up that kind of play and keep Wilson on the sideline? © Adam Hunger, Associated Press New York Jets quarterback Zach Wilson (2) reacts against the Chicago Bears during an NFL football game on Sunday, Nov. 27, 2022, in East Rutherford, N.J. The Jets’ beleaguered former starting quarterback watched from the sideline as his replacement, Mike White, had a stellar game last week. Now the question is, can White keep up that kind of play and keep Wilson on the sideline?

Nearly one week ago, Zach Wilson went from starter to the sidelines when New York Jets coach Robert Saleh benched the No. 2 overall pick in the 2021 NFL draft.

After one week of seeing Mike White replace Wilson on the field, the cries for Wilson to be replaced on a more permanent basis only grew.

That’s because White put up an efficient stat line in the Jets’ 31-10 victory over Chicago last Sunday.

And with New York fighting for a playoff berth — the Jets currently hold the seventh and final AFC wild-card spot with a 7-4 record — the question of when and if Wilson will return to the lineup looms over the team.

How did the Jets offense fare in Mike White’s first start this year? 

In his first action of the season, White completed 22 of 28 passes for 315 yards and three touchdowns in the Jets’ win over the Bears.

His 149.3 passer rating was the fifth-best in franchise history by a Jets starting quarterback with at least 20 pass attempts in a game.

White completed passes to 10 different receivers, including rookie Garret Wilson, who led the team with five catches for 95 yards and two touchdowns.

New York Jets quarterback Mike White (5) reacts to a touchdown against the Chicago Bears during an NFL football game Sunday, Nov. 27, 2022, in East Rutherford, N.J. © Adam Hunger, Associated Press New York Jets quarterback Mike White (5) reacts to a touchdown against the Chicago Bears during an NFL football game Sunday, Nov. 27, 2022, in East Rutherford, N.J.

New York totaled 466 yards in the win and converted seven of 12 third downs while scoring on four out of five possessions during one stretch (that included three touchdowns) to turn a 10-7 deficit into a 21-point lead.

“I thought today was a complete team win,” White told reporters after the game, per the team website. “The defense dominated and flew around the field and made plays. We ran well when we needed to, the guys were running hard. I felt like it’s a complete team win.”

Even with White’s impressive performance, Saleh said that won’t alter the team’s original plan to get Wilson, the former BYU quarterback, back out on the field after a “reset.”

“It’s exactly what I talked about last week in my press conference,” Saleh said Monday, per ESPN. “It’s a week-to-week deal. The full intent is to get Zach ready to play football again. I’ll make that decision when I’m ready. While we’re going through this process, it’s Mike White’s opportunity to take advantage of every last play he gets.

“I’m going to leave it at that. We’re going to figure it out as we go.”

What went wrong for Zach Wilson?

Wilson’s benching came as a result of his poor play during his sophomore season and an apparent lack of accountability, particularly after the Jets’ game against New England two weeks ago when he threw for a career-low 77 yards in a 10-3 loss.

On the season, Wilson has completed just under 56% of his pass attempts for 1,279 yards and has thrown four touchdowns to five interceptions after missing the first three weeks with a knee injury.

Media observers, from an outside perspective, were a bit more bullish that White’s effort could complicate things if he’s able to continue that strong play.

“Zach Wilson doesn’t play again for the Jets until Mike White proves he’s not capable of it,” ESPN analyst and former NFL quarterback Dan Orlovsky said during a segment on ESPN’s “Get Up.”

The New York Post’s Brian Costello pointed toward White’s ability to read a defense faster than Wilson as one major reason to stick with the hot hand during the stretch run of the season, while discounting any chatter about Wilson’s long-term future.

“The biggest difference between White and Zach Wilson is how quickly White can read the defense and get rid of the ball. White’s average time to throw on Sunday was 2.38 seconds. Wilson’s average this season is 3.09 seconds. So, White is getting rid of the ball almost a full second faster than Wilson,” Costello wrote.

“There is a lot of discussion now about whether Wilson will play again this season or ever for the Jets. I don’t think now is the time to worry about that. Live in the moment. White is playing well. The Jets will ride this for as long as they can. If White falters and the Jets start losing games, then Wilson could return. As for the future beyond this season, there will be plenty of time to worry about that when the season is over.”

NFL.com columnist Jeffri Chadiha identified White as one of six players leaguewide who could shape the playoff race.

“White, selected in the fifth round in 2018, was basically everything the Jets have been hoping Wilson, the second overall pick in 2021, would become, completing 78.6 percent of his passes for 315 yards and three touchdowns. Come on, bro. There’s no way the Jets can go back to Wilson after that, even if White isn’t as spectacular in his next outing. (And White did throw four picks in a start last year two games after throwing for 405 yards.),” Chadiha wrote. 

“The Jets have a ferocious defense and the inside track at a wild-card playoff spot at the moment. They can’t risk success to see if Wilson can grow up in a hurry. They needed a leader under center. Looks like they just found one.”

What’s next for the Jets?

Three of New York’s final six opponents (Buffalo, Miami and Minnesota) are currently in line to make the playoffs and another, Seattle, is just outside the playoff picture. All four of those games against teams in the postseason hunt are on the road.

Against the Bears, White led the Jets offense to numbers that were better than what Chicago has been giving up this year: the Bears are 12th in the NFL in pass defense (206.1 yards per game), 20th in total defense (350 ypg) and 27th in scoring defense (25.4 points per game).

There are some favorable matchups for White (or Wilson) and New York in the final six weeks — the Jets will face the bottom three teams (Seattle, Minnesota and Detroit) in the NFL in total defense. 

They don’t face a single team in the top half of the NFL in pass defense, and only two outside the bottom eight.

One thing to watch, though, is takeaways. Three of the Jets’ remaining opponents (Buffalo, Seattle and Minnesota) are among the NFL’s top 5 in takeaways this season, and a fourth, Jacksonville, is in the top 10.

Last season, White threw four touchdowns to six interceptions in his three NFL starts when Wilson was hurt — that included a four-interception game in his final start.

Here’s a look at those final six opponents for the Jets, and how they rank in several defensive categories:

Week 13: at Minnesota (9-2) 

The Vikings are last (32nd) in the NFL in passing defense (276.1 ypg), 31st in total defense (390.7 ypg) and 21st in scoring defense (23.4 ppg).

Week 14: at Buffalo (8-3)

The Bills are 19th in pass defense (221.6 ypg), 12th in total defense (327.3 ypg) and fifth in scoring defense (18.1 ppg).

Week 15: vs. Detroit (4-7)

The Lions are 29th in pass defense (259.9 ypg), 32nd in total defense (414.5 ypg) and 32nd in scoring defense (28.2). 

Week 16: vs. Jacksonville (4-7)

The Jaguars are 25th in pass defense (248.1 ypg), 24th in total defense (362.9 ypg) and tied for 14th in scoring defense (21.1 ppg).

Week 17: at Seattle (6-5)

The Seahawks are 23rd in pass defense (234.9 ypg), 30th in total defense (388.7 ypg) and 28th in scoring defense (25.5 ppg).

Week 18: at Miami (8-3)

The Dolphins are 22nd in pass defense (233.8 ypg), 17th in total defense (343.4 ypg) and tied for 19th in scoring defense (23.3 ppg).

Could this lineup of games spell more success for White, or eventually help give way to Wilson’s return?

Only time will tell, and Saleh isn’t shutting the door on the Utah native.

“Mike’s got an opportunity to stack another great day up this week,” Saleh said. “When we feel like Zach is ready to roll, he’s going to roll.”

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