A game that began with such promise -- a fast start for rookie QB Zach Wilson and the Jets' offense -- seemed to turn on a dime in the second half where the rhythm and precision deserted the Green & White on Sunday in Miami Gardens, FL. The result was a 31-24 loss to the Miami Dolphins (7-7), who won their sixth-straight game as the Jets (3-11) lost their third in a row.
Wilson and the Jets started fast and were moving the ball, taking the lead into the locker room at halftime for the first time this season. For 30 minutes, the Jets appeared to be bossing the game, holding a 17-10 lead.
"This was my biggest game just playing free," said Wilson, who connected on a surgical 9-of-15 passes for 109 yards in the first half, finishing 13 of 23 for 170 yards without a TD or INT. "Just scrambling around and playing free."
Early in the season, the offense was slow getting out of the gate, but settled down and played well in the second half.
The Jets jumped out to a 10-0 lead in the first quarter, powered by a short-passing attack that saw Wilson hit his three tight ends, Tyler Kroft (back from injury), Ryan Griffin and Trevon Wesco for a combined 4 completions for 69 yards. After Miami went three and out to start the game, Wilson took the Jets on a 10-play, 83-yard TD drive that consumed 6:04 with Braxton Berrios scoring on a 10-yard run.
On the drive, Wilson was 5 of 5, connecting with five different receivers.
"Again, it comes down to, in the simplest terms of football, it's rhythm, sustaining drives, keeping it manageable on third down.," head coach Robert Saleh said. "You have to win the ones-on-one and the quarterback needs to deliver the ball."
On Miami's next possession, the Jets' Ashtyn Davis intercepted a Tua Tagovailoa pass and returned it to the Dolphins' 25. The Jets moved to the Miami 9-yard line and tried their first trick play of the game. Wilson pitched to WR Keelan Cole and slipped around left end toward the goal line. But Cole's pass was broken up and the Jets had to settle for an Eddie Piñeiro field goal for the 10-0 lead.
"I'm glad Keelan got a taste of what it's like to be quarterback," Wilson said with a laugh.
After a Miami TD, the Jets again responded, driving 75 yards in 8 plays with Wilson squeezing over from a yard out for his third rushing TD of the season. The Green & White had a chance to add to the lead at the end of the first half, but the two-minute drive fizzled and the drive to open the second half ended in a three-and-out.
"It was the lack of rhythm, getting those three-and-outs," Saleh said. "We had a chance to really do some damage with the ball at the end of the first half. It was how we drew it up. We miss out on those, get the ball to start the second half, go three-and-out and give up 14 straight. As far as it concerns Zach, it is a rhythm thing. They changed the picture and you have to adjust. You have to get rid of the ball."
The game turned Miami's way early in the second half, and it never turned back.
"They kind of changed their defense a little bit, it's what a good team does," center Connor McGovern said. "I felt like we were winning the one-on-one matchups and we felt we could do the same as in the first half. It definitely changed a bit. Once they had the momentum swing, we couldn't claw it back."
The rhythm that Wilson and the offense had in the first half was absent in the final 30 minutes as Miami's defense exerted extreme pressure on the rookie QB from BYU, notching 6 sacks in the game in addition to 8 QB hits.
Wilson recognized that the Dolphins changed their defensive approach, going to man coverage that took away the short-passing game the Jets relied on in the first half.
"Once you get man coverage, it [short passes] kind of goes away," Wilson said. "You have to let guys win on their routes, that causes me to hitch, and we didn't capitalize on guys open down field. I was trying to do my best, sitting in the pocket and trusting the protection."
All that said, Wilson did have a couple of impressive off-schedule plays: One in the first half when he scrambled away from pressure and found Griffin for 23 yards to the Miami 17; and in the second half when he eluded three tacklers en route to a first down.
Miami's defense, which has not allowed 17 points or more in its six-game winning streak, had the answers when it mattered most.
"Everyone is always going to look to the quarterback," Saleh said. "Call me old school, but it's a collective effort. The receivers have got to get open and Zach has got to deliver the ball in a timely manner. It's not all on Zach."
See Best Images from the Game in Miami