Bad sneak play blame does not all lie with Zach Wilson

The Jets lost a heartbreaker to Tom Brady and the Buccaneers, 28-24, on Sunday at MetLife Stadium. Here are some thoughts and observations.

1. I’m surprised by how much blame some people are assigning Zach Wilson for the failed fourth-and-2 play late in the game. I thought Robert Saleh explained it pretty well after the game. The play had a built-in read that if there was no player in the gap between the center and guard, the quarterback was to run the sneak. Some people have called this an “option” but I don’t see it as an option. That implies that Wilson had a choice to make. This was a read. It was an “if, then” statement. If there is no one in the gap, sneak the ball. That is what he did.

Clearly, the coaches should have realized A) this was too long of a conversion to run the sneak and tell Wilson to just hand the ball off no matter what and B) Vita Vea and Ndamokung Suh are on the Buccaneers, so tell Wilson not to sneak it.

Zach Wilson during Jets loss to Tampa Bay on Sunday.
AP

Should Wilson have recognized these two things on his own? Maybe. But Sunday was the 12th game of his career. He’s going to miss things. He’s still learning on the job. Wilson deserves some blame but not in the way some people are criticizing him.

The SNY postgame crew went at Wilson hard. They said he “called his own number” and “needs to apologize to all of his teammates.” They said it was a selfish play and Bart Scott said Wilson has a “character flaw.”

Scott, Leger Douzable and Willie Colon all know a lot more about football than I do. They all had good NFL careers. Douzable and Colon are good guys. It is possible they are just trying to do what they think their bosses at SNY want and give strong opinions. I think they are off on this one, though.

I don’t pretend to know Wilson. COVID-19 has kept reporters from really getting to know players this year. But Wilson’s play on Sunday was the opposite of selfish or trying to be the hero. One of the best things he did Sunday was throw the ball away and not force things. He has not played hero ball for a while now.

As for Scott saying Wilson has a “character flaw,” maybe he should spend some time with Wilson before he starts commenting on his character. When Scott played, reporters were allowed in the locker room. I saw Scott give the middle finger to a photographer. I saw Scott try to mount a boycott of the media because he didn’t like something that was written only to be shot down by teammates (Imagine players choosing the media over a teammate). I heard Scott rip Mark Sanchez in 2016, saying he would have won Super Bowls if Alex Smith was his quarterback. I heard Scott make juvenile jokes about Sanchez’s Mexican heritage, calling him names with nacho or taco in it.

Let’s just say I saw some character flaws in Scott during his time with the Jets.

2. We entered this phase of the season looking for signs of progress from the Jets. They are providing them. The biggest development is Wilson’s improved play. He had his best game as a pro on Sunday. He was decisive with the ball and looked comfortable running the offense.

The other big development is the Jets have been competitive. During that stretch in the middle of the season when they were getting blown out by the Patriots, Colts and Bills, we said they had to find a way to stop the bleeding and be competitive. They have.

The Jets went toe-to-toe with the Buccaneers on Sunday and only trailed for the final 15 seconds of the game. They beat the Jaguars, a team they should beat, last week. They were tied in the fourth quarter against the Dolphins before losing. Even the Saints game, which ended up being a lopsided score, was a touchdown game in the third quarter.

Then, they folded on the final series. Yes, it is Brady. He’s done this countless times to teams. But a defense should be able to prevent him from going 93 yards in the final two minutes with no timeouts. The Jets were soft in coverage and let him drive down the field. The 33-yard touchdown was inexcusable. There were some good moments for the Jets defense on Sunday but they folded when the team needed a stop.

This is what you wanted to see from the Jets. They look like an NFL team. The next step is turning close losses into wins. That is the mission for them in 2022.

3. With all the attention on the fourth-and-2 play by the offense, the Jets defense escaped without getting enough blame. First, they gave up a third-and-20 in the third quarter that extended a drive that resulted in a Bucs touchdown.

Michael Carter during the Jets loss to the Buccaneers.
Michael Carter during the Jets loss to the Buccaneers.
AP

4. It was a good day for Joe Douglas’ 2021 Draft class. Wilson had his best game and looked like things slowed down for him. Alijah Vera-Tucker returned from the COVID-19 list and opened up some big holes. Michael Carter had a 55-yard run, his longest of the year, before leaving with a concussion. Michael Carter II sacked Brady on a third down. Brandin Echols picked off Brady at the end of the first half.

This rookie class has a lot of promise. If they can get Elijah Moore back on the field this week, he could add to the good feelings entering the offseason about the young core.

Revealing stat

The Jets have given up 477 points this season, a new franchise record. It tops the old record of 457 points… set last year. In the future, people will look at this mark and point out it was the first year with 17 games, but the Jets set this mark in 16 games. Jets need to get their defense fixed this offseason.

Surprising snap count

Jeff Smith led all receivers with 59 snaps out a possible 61. That left Denzel Mims on the bench. He did not get one snap.

Game ball

Let’s give this one to Wilson. He went 19-of-33 for 234 yards and a touchdown. But more than the stats, he looked like he belonged and he made some big-time throws.

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