QB Zach Wilson ‘doesn’t flinch,’ rallies New York Jets to victory in season debut

PITTSBURGH — Quarterback Zach Wilson’s season debut included a historic touchdown catch, a two-quarter slump that almost doomed the New York Jets, and the biggest comeback of his young career in the fourth quarter.

“It was an ugly win, but it was one of the most fun things I’ve had playing football,” Wilson said Sunday after a 24-20 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers at Acrisure Stadium.

It was a wild game.

The Jets led by 10 points in the first quarter and 10 in the fourth, but Wilson rallied them with 81-yard and 65-yard touchdown drives on their last two possessions to claim their second come-from-behind win on the road get out . Wilson returned to the Huddle after a preseason knee injury that required arthroscopic surgery on August 16. After just three days of full practice, he was predictably rusty (18-for-36, 252 yards, two interceptions), but he made several clutch throws in the fourth quarter. Sunday’s game marked the first time since 1988 that the Jets had won the game by 10 points, 10 behind, according to research by Elias Sports Bureau.

Wilson was nearly clean in the fourth, completing 10 of 12 passes for 128 yards and a touchdown — a 5-yard slant on wide receiver Corey Davis with 7:31 remaining.

“The young man doesn’t flinch,” said coach Robert Saleh.

Drafted second overall in 2021, Wilson showed toughness and resilience in the final minutes. He completed his last seven passes, including 5-for-5 for 57 yards on the final drive. The Jets took a 3:34 interception from Michael Carter II to play and marched to Breece Hall’s 2-yard touchdown run with 16 seconds left.

Wilson said he didn’t think about his surgically repaired knee during the game. He was under heavy pressure from a makeshift line. He’s only been sacked once, but has been hit six times and pressured 14 times, according to NFL Next Gen Stats.

“I thought this was probably the most comfortable thing I’d ever seen coming into a game from a pregame standpoint,” said Wilson, who won 3-10 as a starter in a difficult rookie year.

Wilson proved he could catch a pass. In the second quarter, he scored on the Jets version of the “Philly Special,” a confusing play where he passed it to wide receiver Garrett Wilson, who threw it to receiver Braxton Berrios, who threw in a 2-yard pass a wide open Wilson.

He became the first quarterback in Jets history to hit a touchdown reception and the first to catch a pass since Geno Smith in 2013. Wilson celebrated with a “griddy” dance in the end zone.

“Pretty cool,” he said of his touchdown, joking, “I have the best hands on the team.”

The Jets appeared to be in control with a 10-0 lead, but Wilson threw two interceptions (one from the hands of tight end Tyler Conklin) as the Jets missed chances to tie the game. Wilsons said, “There was frustration, but it was the right kind of frustration.” The defense made four interceptions, including two from safety Lamarcus Joyner, to keep the Jets in the game. That ended up giving Wilson two great possessions.

“He never turned it off. He never turns it off. You can tell he just believes in himself. He might not have played a perfect game, but it was his first game back and all,” Hall said of Wilson.

Wilson, who showed no ill effects from his knee surgery, escaped a handful of sacks with his mobility. He said he was “in a good place” with his knee, and credited the training staff with getting it on him. He was on the run because his offensive line suffered another serious injury when rookie right tackle Max Mitchell (knee) was sent off in the second quarter — the fourth Jets tackle to be injured since training camp.

The day started with a surprise move, right guard Alijah Vera-Tucker starting with left tackle. At halftime, only two of the five week one starters were in their original positions — center Connor McGovern and left guard Laken Tomlinson. Led by Wilson, the Jets (2-2) overcame many adversities.

“I thought he played a good game in his first second leg,” said Saleh.

The Steelers (1-3) found it hard to swallow. Safety Minkah Fitzpatrick said: “It’s very frustrating. It’s frustrating to lose to people you know are better, more talented than.”

https://www.espn.com/nfl/story/_/id/34714794/qb-zach-wilson-flinch-rallies-new-york-jets-victory-season-debut QB Zach Wilson ‘doesn’t flinch,’ rallies New York Jets to victory in season debut

Emma Bowman

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