For the second straight game, the Jets' inability to convert on third down and keep the offense on the field played a major role in the team's second consecutive loss. A furious late rally fell short in the 15-10 defeat to New England at MetLife Stadium on Sunday.
Until quarterback Zach Wilson led the Jets on a 13-play, 87-yard TD drive early in the fourth quarter to cut the Patriots' lead to 3 points, 13-10, Wilson had completed 9-of-17 passes for only 47 yards. On the drive, he hit on 7 of 10 for 79 yards, a drive that ended with fullback Nick Bawden's first career NFL TD on a 1-yard dive.
Acknowledging the offense's struggles to spark a run game and give the quarterback a clean pocket, the third-year quarterback said the 1-2 start to the season (ahead of a visit by the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs next Sunday night) should not leave his Jets teammates and the club's fans in despair.
"Keep believing," Wilson said. "I truly believe we've got the guys, we understand the frustration. It's not fun to go three-and-out, not establish drives and score touchdowns. We're going to do everything we can to get better."
Asked about Wilson and his place in the starting lineup, head coach Robert Saleh said: "He's fine." He added: "It would help if we could help around him in terms of the way we play."
The offensive line, especially with the news that left tackle Duane Brown has been placed on injured reserve, continues to be challenged to establish the run game and in pass protection. Against New England, which notched its 15th straight victory over the Jets and eighth straight at MetLife, the Jets were forced to move Mekhi Becton back to the left side, shift Alijah Vera-Tucker to right tackle and give rookie Joe Tippmann his first NFL start, at right guard.
"We're still early in the season," Saleh said. "We knew that even with Aaron [Rodgers] at quarterback there would be hiccups along the way. It's a new offense, a new play-caller [OC Nathaniel Hackett], a new line, new players. Now this curveball [Rodgers' season-ending injury in Week 1]. They're acclimating, they're going to get better. It's still early."
Saleh added: "Right now he [Wilson] is the best player, he's the one who gives us the best chance to win. That's the cleanest answer I can give you."
Eight of the Jets' first nine possessions in the game ended with punts by Thomas Morstead (the other resulted in a 52-yard field goal by Greg Zuerlein, who was back after missing the Dallas game with a groin injury). Overall in the game, the Jets converted 2 of 14 (14.3%) on third down after converting 1 of 10 in last week's loss to the Cowboys.
Yet the Green & White was still in the game, trailing by 10-3 to start the second half. The defense, which did not have a sack of New England QB Mac Jones, tightened up and allowed only 3 points (the Pats got their other 2 points on a safety) in the second half.
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Then with 10:46 to play, the Jets put the ball in play at their 13-yard line after a punt. Wilson kept the drive alive on third-and-5 from the 18-yard line when he connected with TE Tyler Conklin for 18 yards and a first down. After a couple of completions and short runs by Dalvin Cook, Wilson threw a rope to WR Allen Lazard for 21 yards to the NE 22.
"He [Wilson] got into a rhythm, hit in a hole to Lazar on the right sideline -- it was a high-difficulty shot," Saleh said. "Just overall, we got them on their heels and were able to stay on the gas. Consistency, we have to take it from drive to drive."
Five plays later and after a pass interference call in the end zone, Bawden drove over from a yard out and the Jets' were within a field goal with 5:29 to play.
"I think it gets to a point we're not doing anything and as a quarterback you have to try and go make a play," Wilson said. "It was a hurry-up offense, they gave us looks to exploit and for a moment we got the ball rolling, a couple of first downs, and hey, we got it going."
Wilson added: "We had a good plan. We need to find a way as players to keep drives going, so we can stick to the plan and rest will take care of itself. The fourth quarter is the quarterback's time. That's when you have to start putting your foot on the pedal."
The Jets still had a sliver of life after the TD, but a safety by Matt Judon and then a final, desperation drive and incomplete pass into the Patriots' end zone ended the game.
"We've got to be better all around," Saleh said. "It's still a team game. We've got to play better everywhere -- on the offensive line, in the run game [overall, 38 yards on 22 carries in the game], better in protection [Wilson was sacked 3 times for 24 yards and hit 7 times]. Everyone has to be better."