On June 17, Jets first-year HC Robert Saleh said that one of the lessons he learned from Seahawks HC Pete Carroll, whom he worked for from 2011-13, was you can't be afraid to play young guys.
Saleh referred to them as "hell on wheels," and said they're fun to watch.
"You can't, as a football coach, be afraid to go through those bumps because there's light at the end of the tunnel," he said at the time. "It might be a freight train or it's actual light, but it doesn't matter, we're going through that tunnel and you just got to go. It's an exciting time for these young guys, it's an exciting time for this organization and we're just excited to see how it plays out."
Fast-forward seven months and the Jets' rookies, who have endured their fair share of bumps throughout the season, played perhaps their best football against the defending Super Bowl champion Buccaneers in a heartbreaking 28-24 loss at MetLife Stadium. Below is a look at how they performed Sunday.
QB Zach Wilson, Round 1
Wilson's 89.7 QB rating against Tampa Bay was his second-highest this season (he had a 97.3 vs. Tennessee in Week 4). He's continued to look more comfortable in the offense over the last few games, completing 19 of 33 for 234 yards and 1 TD. He's now gone four games (136 passes) without throwing an interception.
"I think I'm just starting to get a better grasp of the offense," Wilson said. "I thought Mike [LaFleur] has done an amazing job just putting me in a good position. I just feel comfortable with what's going on. I thought he called a great game in terms of scheming guys open and a lot of really good plays the whole game. We got things rolling on offense, got into a rhythm and I just got comfortable with what was going on. I think that just is what happens when you start to play more and get more reps. You just feel more comfortable in the game and in the offense."
LG Alijah Vera-Tucker, Round 1
Vera-Tucker, the No. 14 overall pick out of USC, helped pave the way for the Jets to rush for 150 yards against the NFL's No. 3 rush defense in his return to the lineup after missing last week's game on the reserve/Covid list. He leads the offense with 980 snaps and has missed 2 snaps in the 15 games he's played in. AVT's 90 Pro Football Focus grade is the second-best in the NFL in Week 17 among guards.
RB Michael Carter, Round 4
Carter was "primed" to have a big day, according to fellow RB Ty Johnson, but his afternoon was cut short after sustaining a concussion in the first quarter. Carter exploded out of the gate, taking a run on the right side 55 yards that set up the Jets on the Bucs' 12-yard line. The Green & White took a 7-0 lead four plays later when Carter took a direct snap and flipped it to Braxton Berrios on an end around, who ran it in. Carter has the fifth-highest grade among rookie RBs on Pro Football Focus at 73. His 79.5 run grade ranks second.
"They ran the ball way too well on us," Bucs HC Bruce Arians said. "Credit to them, they had a hell of a gameplan with all the quick motions and stuff."
See Best Images from the Game at MetLife Stadium
S Jason Pinnock, Round 5
Pinnock's transition from cornerback to safety has put him on the field late in the season. He didn't start against the Bucs in Week 17, but his 50 snaps were the second-most among the team's safeties (Elijah Riley, 62). Pinnock had the team's best PFF grade on defense (68.5) after finishing second in Week 16, his first NFL start.
CB Michael Carter II, Round 5
Carter II was a Day 1 starter for the Jets at nickel and hasn't looked back. He registered his first career sack against Bucs, taking down Tom Brady, who is the least sacked quarterback in the NFL. Carter II also leads the team with 2 fumble recoveries and has 68 tackles, 4 tackles for loss and 4 pass defenses.
CB Brandin Echols, Round 6
Echols, another starter from Day 1, has come on strong toward the end of the 2021 season. His second career interception came against Brady in the waning part of the first half and his turnover led to 3 points. Eddy Piñeiro's 51-yard field goal gave the Jets a 17-10 lead with 6 seconds left in the half.
"That it's very bright," LB C.J. Mosley, a team captain, said of the future of the Jets defense. "There's no ceiling. We have a foundation that we've set, a mentality that we've set. We talked about ego today and letting your passion and heart sign on the football field. What you've seen the past few games is that everybody's confidence continues to build with plays like that. … You see our young guys really stepping up and owning what they have to do."