Maybe Sunday was merely a very large bump in the road for Zach Wilson.
Maybe the 23-year-old will figure this out, and the two losses against the Patriots this season will be learning experiences along the way. After all, he is in just his second season.
But after a shambolic performance against New England in which Wilson was 9-for-22, threw for just 77 yards, lacked confidence in his play and failed to show accountability after the fact in a 10-3 loss, it looks like a more distinct possibility that Wilson is not going to be the Jets’ quarterback of the future.
That would be a shame not just for Wilson himself, but because it would take all the positivity and progress of the Jets this season and render it close to meaningless. The Jets have a great defense — we saw that Sunday, prior to the Patriots’ game-winning punt return, when the defense kept on bailing out the offense. They have a promising young running back in Breece Hall, though returning from an ACL tear next year will be an obstacle to overcome. They have high-end talent at receiver in Garrett Wilson.
But without a quarterback, where does that get them?
And climbing out of mediocrity in the NFL is no easy thing to do.
It necessitates either hitting on a quarterback outside of the top 10 of the draft or acquiring one via free agency or a trade. If you want to know how hard that can be, look at the Colts post-Andrew Luck, cycling through Jacoby Brissett, Brian Hoyer, Philip Rivers, Carson Wentz, Matt Ryan and Sam Ehlinger without a playoff win to show for it. Look at the Browns, thought to be so promising before everyone realized Baker Mayfield wasn’t the answer. Look at the Broncos, who can’t even get it right with Russell Wilson.
Maybe the Jets will get it right. Maybe they will get it right with Wilson.
But the NFL is a league in which getting it right is hard and in which winning without the right quarterback is almost impossible. Feel good all you want about this season — and Jets fans have earned every right to do that. At 6-4, the team’s first playoff appearance since the 2010 season is still in play, and that would be a joyous occasion.
No matter what happens these next two months, though, if the Jets go into next season with Zach Wilson not being the clear-cut quarterback of the future, it is a problem — and not one with an easy solution. Right now, Wilson is not their clear-cut quarterback of the future or even their clear-cut quarterback of next week.
It’s not just that Wilson played them out of a win on Sunday, it’s his answer — “No” — when asked by reporters in Foxborough whether he let the defense down. That doesn’t fly from a quarterback in this town. Whether it flies in the Jets’ locker room is an open question (and it shouldn’t).
The Jets punted on Sunday more times than they got a first down. Given a chance to drive down the field and take the lead with 1:45 to go, coach Robert Saleh played scared, running the ball instead of letting Wilson take control, and who could blame him? They had two yards of offense in the second half. Two.
Yes, their playoff position is now at risk. But the long-term ramifications are far more alarming than the short-term heartbreak.
Today’s back page
🏀 Ben Simmons breaks out as Nets beat Grizzlies in Kyrie Irving’s return
🏀 RJ Barrett, Julius Randle struggle in Knicks’ messy loss to Suns
The Giants use up their Joker
This was not a good Sunday for the Giants: a 31-18 loss at home to a below-.500 Lions team, Daniel Jones’ interception-less streak ending with a lack of style and injuries to four different players with a short week incoming.
The optimistic take here: Bad weeks happen. The Giants, now 7-3 and without a terrible loss until Sunday, just had one.
They’re still in playoff position, and the division title is still a possibility with two games left against the Eagles. But Sunday’s was the only one of those games the Giants can afford if they mean to compete for the NFC East and make something of this season. Because as promising as they’ve been through 11 weeks, five of their remaining games are against divisional opponents, including four in a row starting on Thanksgiving in Dallas. In that sense, at least, this was a good time to throw out a dud.
It’s still all to play for, but that means it can still all fall apart. The Giants also have not yet won a game by more than one score, a stat that attests to their ability to close games out in the fourth quarter, but also a source of skepticism that they are as good as their record, particularly when it comes to the advanced stats, which do not believe in this team one iota.
A couple of strong performances against their divisional opponents would do well to quiet the doubts that are lingering ever stronger after Sunday’s performance, in which the Giants looked a lot more like the team we thought they’d be before the season than the team they’ve been.
Jones, in particular, must be better when the opposition is doing everything it can to stop the running game and force him to make a play. At its root, offensive football is about finding open space, of putting the ball where the defense is not. It’s OK to lean on your running game, but if you can’t throw the ball when the defense is selling out to stop the run, it’s a fatal flaw.
That did the Giants in on Sunday, and you better believe upcoming opponents will try to replicate the strategy. It has helped Jones that — until Sunday — the Giants have been in close games all season, meaning the situation has rarely required Brian Daboll to lean on his quarterback. Jones dropped back 44 times on Sunday, a season high. It’s no coincidence it turned out to be his worst game in 2022.
The good news: None of this was much of a secret before Sunday — Dan Campbell was not pioneering new ground — and the Giants still won seven of their first nine. Bouncing back from a loss like this is a bit of a different situation, especially on short rest, but the Giants have shown positive signs about their ability to do so. They haven’t lost two games in a row, another point in favor of the group’s resiliency under Daboll. Now would be a bad time to start.
Wales of a game
If you think eight years of waiting between World Cups is bad, try 64.
That’s how long it’s been for Wales, the United States’ opponent in its first game of the group stage on Monday afternoon (2 p.m., Fox). And if you think that’s a sign of a lack of formidability, think again.
The Welsh made the Round of 16 in Euro 2020 (which took place last summer) and the semifinals of the same tournament in 2016. They also played the U.S. to a 0-0 draw in a Nov. 2020 friendly. Betting odds have Wales just behind the United States to get out of the group, and as a slight underdog in this game, but make no mistake, the World Cup will hinge on this game for the Americans.
At a glance, it figures England should be the favorite in all three of its games in Group B. And it figures Iran should be the underdog in all three of its games. That doesn’t mean England will go 3-0, and it doesn’t mean that Iran will go 0-3. But it does mean that if either the United States or Wales can take three points from this game, they will be in a strong position to advance to the knockout stages.
What’s worrying about this game isn’t just the talent on the Wales squad — though Gareth Bale up front provides considerable star power, even at age 33 — but that the way Wales plays is well suited to getting a result against the United States.
Wales likely will line up with five players in defense, let the Americans — led by new captain Tyler Adams — possess the ball and try to hit them on the break. That is exactly the kind of game the U.S. has struggled to win recently. Their attack is more suited to playing in transition than to breaking down a defense. That’s partially a product of not having a top-end striker — a problem that won’t be solved before this afternoon.
Added to the list of potential issues is that star midfielder Weston McKennie is dealing with a quad injury suffered in mid-October. He told reporters leading into the match that he feels good, and the expectation is that he’ll play. It’s not clear, though, that he’ll play 90 minutes or that he’ll be at full effectiveness.
Ditto for right back Sergiño Dest, who’s dealt with muscle fatigue, but said this week he’s ready to go.
And Wales is a more talented team than you might think.
“When I look at Wales’ squad, it’s basically a Premier League squad,” U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter told reporters. “You have [winger] Daniel James, he scored the other night against Manchester United; you have [midfielder] Harry Wilson, a high-quality player; [striker] Kieffer Moore; [center back] Neco Williams; [forward] Brennan Johnson; Gareth Bale; [center back] Ben Davies. To me, it’s a really good squad, a formidable squad. They’ve been in international competitions before, they know what it’s like.”
Of course, coaches pump their opposition’s tires all the time, but Berhalter is right on this one. Save for Bale, who’s moved over to MLS, most of the players on the field against the United States are Premier League mainstays. And like the U.S., this is a hungry team keen to take advantage of the opportunity in front of them.
On paper, this is going to be a tough game, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see a U.S. win, loss or draw. A draw would be survivable, though it would make it vital to get a point against England. A loss would mean that without a major upset victory against England, the World Cup is likely over for the United States.
More on the World Cup:
• Ecuador’s 2-0 win over Qatar was plainly embarrassing for the host nation, whose players looked nervous, whose fans left early and whose emir surrounded himself with autocrats in his box during the game. It does not look out of the question that Qatar will be the worst team to play in a World Cup since North Korea in 2010. (If you’re wondering, Zaire at the 1974 World Cup is generally considered the worst team to reach the tournament, losing all three of its group stage matches by a combined score of 14-0, including a 9-0 loss to Yugoslavia.) Unlike most host nations, there won’t be much sympathy for Qatar if that scenario comes to pass, due to the country’s abysmal human rights record, the questions about how they won the bid to host and FIFA president Gianni Infantino’s embarrassing hour-long speech in defense of the whole affair in the leadup to Sunday.
• In addition to the USMNT, Monday features the Netherlands playing Senegal and England against Iran. The Three Lions are heavy favorites against the Iranians. Senegal, which has a chance to make it out of Group A, will be getting a serious test against Louis van Gaal-led Netherlands. The biggest storyline of the match will be how the underdogs look without Sadio Mane, their star forward who is missing the tournament with injury.