Jets QB Zach Wilson has been trending upward in the six games since his return from a knee injury. Now the rookie from BYU gets one last set of teaching points to take with him into his first full offseason as a pro.
Call them the lessons of Western New York.
First and foremost, it's the Wilson Jets' first trek up to Buffalo and to the venerable venue now billed as Highmark Stadium.
That means performing in the sometimes brutal weather. Specifically today, with the NFL flexing the kickoff from 1 p.m. to 4:25 ET, that means temperatures falling past freezing by the end of the game and 20-mph winds gusting to 40 mph.
That also means dealing with the rabid Buffalo fans, who will be out in force for this game because their QB, Josh Allen, and their Bills are battling the Patriots for their second consecutive AFC East title.
It's a challenging learning experience for Wilson. And he's all in.
"These guys are going to give us their best shot, obviously, to get homefield advantage and everything that comes with it," Wilson said this week. "They want to try and finish the regular season strong, same thing with us, so we're both going to give it our all. It's going to be a good game for us. Who can finish, who can give it everything they have, and just end up on a high note. And especially for us young guys, it's been an up-and-down season. The best thing we can do is finish strong."
Not every Zach stat is jumping through the roof. His accuracy has stayed below 60%, his touchdown passes are modest and steady, 3-and-out drive rate has dipped.
See the Jets Arriving for the Week 18 Game Against the Bills
But other metrics are booming. He's improved his drive engineering, from averages of 5.2 plays for 25.0 yards and 12% touchdowns to 5.8 for 29 and a 20% TD rate. He said he doesn't like running with the ball but in his last six games he's averaged 7.3 yards/carry and rushed for four TDs. Interceptions? Fuhgeddaboudit. He hasn't thrown an interception over the last four full games and his last 136 pass attempts.
Of course the Bills will have something to say about those trends with their No. 1 overall and passing defense and No. 2 third-down D. And something else Wilson has learned in this roller-coaster rookie year is that NFL football has a 100% injury rate. For a while last week it looked as if the young signal-caller would get back the services of WRs Jamison Crowder and Elijah Moore. Instead, Moore "trended south" and will miss his fifth straight game, and Braxton Berrios will also sit out this Game 17 finale with a quadriceps injury suffered in the near-miss against Tampa Bay.
But Wilson will get back Crowder (calf) as well as receiving TE Tyler Kroft (COVID). And in his backfield, rookie Michael Carter has bounced back from his early concussion vs. the Bucs and will team with Tevin Coleman, returning from a week away due to COVID, not to mention Ty Johnson and his 10 yards/catch receiving skills.
The Jets' running game even without those missing pieces has been percolating. Over their last seven games they're seventh in the NFL in rush yards/game and second at 5.42 yards/carry, with that per-carry average also the best over a seven-game span in franchise history. The ground game was a key factor in the narrow loss to the Bucs and it can be hot one more time in cold Orchard Park.
Combined with a defense that gets DL Quinnen Williams back to team with John Franklin-Meyers and company in the front four, team captain and team MVP C.J. Mosley patrolling the middle and some stability of a sort returning to the secondary, and it's the Jets' aim to ace the last of their 2021 music class, end on that Wilson high note, and soon get to work on writing new score for the AFC East division race in '22 and beyond that includes Zach and the Jets.
Here is the Jets' seven-player inactive list for today's game:
- QB Mike White
- RB La'Mical Perine
- CB Isaiah Dunn
- RB Austin Walter
- OL Greg Senat
- DL Jabari Zuniga
- DL Jonathan Marshall
And this is Buffalo's five-man inactives list:
- WR Emmanuel Sanders
- WR Marquez Stevenson
- OL Bobby Hart
- TE Tommy Sweeney
- DE Efe Obada