Zach Wilson was exuberant about how his Jets battled through injury, illness and adversity and came out of it with a wild and woolly 26-21 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars at MetLife Stadium today.
"Yeah, just take it a game at a time," Wilson said about the Jets' approach to the Jags after practicing all week with head coach Robert Saleh, QBs coach Rob Calabrese and 17 or 18 or 19 teammates not on the field with them due to the NFL's COVID protocols. "It's been a rough season, but we've got to put something good on film every single week. We're going to keep fighting, and the guys had something to fight for today."
Who would have expected that Wilson's fight showed up not as much in his right arm as in both of his legs.
It all began with his rolling-out, tightrope-walking, tackle-breaking, diving 52-yard touchdown scramble — the longest run, TD or not, by a quarterback in franchise history.
"We got man coverage, pressure up the middle," Wilson explained his record run. "I had a chance to dump it off underneath but I just saw a huge lane. Once I got by the sideline, I planned to go out of bounds, but he didn't hit me or push me out, so I just kept going. Then the second guy did the same, so I cut back, and it just worked out for me."
From there Wilson added 17- and 20-yard scrambles and finished with a 2-yard keeper from his 1-yard line to run out the game's final eight seconds for the W. That give him 91 rush yards, another record for Jets and Titans QBs for rush yards in a game, surpassing Al Dorow in 1961 and Sam Darnold last year
"Oh, wow!" Wilson said when told after the game that his TD was the longest run and his 91 rush yards were the most in a game by any QB in franchise history. "I don't know if that's a good thing for me or bad for everyone else. It just worked out. I wasn't planning on running that much. It just kind of happened."
Ron Middleton, the Jets tight ends coach who filled in for Saleh, sidelined due to COVID, as the gameday head coach, said he wasn't caught unawares by Wilson's running dimension.
"I'm not surprised. I'm glad it showed up today," Middleton said. "I know the OC [Mike LaFleur] challenged him on some of his efforts the last couple of weeks for sure. I can't recall the game where he had a lot more yards to go and he was just not playing free. The OC got on him pretty good, and it paid off today."
What also paid off was Wilson's contribution to an outrageous running game. The QB was a strong supporting actor to RB Michael Carter, who racked up his first 100-yard rushing game and the Jets' first 100-yard individual runner in 19 games.
And all this behind an offensive line that did its spot-on impersonation of Monty Python's Black Knight. They lose their starting guards, Alijah Vera-Tucker and Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, to COVID, so they plug in Greg Van Roten and Dan Feeney. They lose RT Morgan Moses for a few plays, so in goes Conor McDermott. C Connor McGovern injures his knee, so Feeney slides over and Isaiah Williams comes in at LG. And all they do is open creases in the Jags' defense for 36 carries and 273 yards — the team's most since Game 4 in 2018, when Isaiah Crowell led those Jets to 323 rushing yards — and allowed just one 2-yard sack of Wilson.
See the Top Images from the Locker Room and Field Following the 26-21 Win at MetLife Stadium
As for his passing game, it was a quiet 14-of-22, 102-yard game. But Wilson also didn't throw an interception for the third game. And his one TD pass was a thing of beauty, not only for him but for McDermott, who turned into a tackle-eligible tight end and went high to grab Wilson's soft toss over his head for the important 1-yard score for a 23-15 lead with 9:16 to play.
It was, of course, the first tackle-eligible touchdown catch since Jumbo Elliott from Vinny Testaverde in the 2000 Monday Night Miracle against Miami.
"That was probably the highlight of my entire life so far, that touchdown pass," Wilson said with a smile. "The funny part was we put the play in in practice and the O-line gives me crap for never throwing it to them. ... I threw it to 'Derm' two times in practice, just joking around, 'Hey, that'd be funny if he caught it.' It's not even part of the read.
"So I go through one, two, three, pressure comes up the middle, I escape to the right, and I just see this big dude with his hands in the air in the back of the end zone with nobody around him. I'm just like, 'Ohmygosh, should I throw it to him? Is this happening?' ... The dude made an awesome catch coming down with it. And that was probably one of the funniest moments of my college, NFL, high school career to hit that one right there. It was awesome."
When it was all over and he had defeated that other rookie QB, Trevor Lawrence, in their first meeting of the '21 draft's top two picks, Wilson gave a quick analysis of Middleton as a head coach.
"It was exactly what we got from him all year," Wilson said. "The passion, the energy, what he brings to the table, guys respect that. He did a great job just stepping up, doing his thing. It wasn't forced. He didn't have to do anything crazy. We loved the message before the game."
Right back at you, said the interim HC who will no doubt return to his TEs this week.
"I think Zach played with confidence out there, he showed his running and athletic ability," Middleton said. "I thought it was great."