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Zach Wilson: Game-Winning Drive at Steelers Will Be 'Big for Us Moving Forward'

Second-Year QB Could Test Out Theory for Him & His Offense in His 2nd Start of Season vs. Dolphins


If Zach Wilson were going to flinch in Flinchburgh, er, Pittsburgh, it would have come with him lining up in the shotgun on first-and-10 from his 19-yard line with 13½ minutes left, the decibel level rising and the Jets trailing the Steelers, 20-10.

But as head coach Robert Saleh has said, "No flinch." It applied to his team and it applied to his quarterback with a quarter left in his first start of the season.

Wilson was unflinching.

"It's short-term memory. How can I approach one play at a time, look at one game at a time, don't worry about stats," Wilson said after Thursday's practice. "How can I do the best on this play and then move on from there?"

It would've been totally understandable, if unfortunate for Wilson, his teammates and Jets fans if he did flinch. Consider where he had come from and the spot he found himself in at Terrible Towel-bedecked Acrisure Stadium.

"Zach hadn't practiced since two days before the Philly game. He got nine plays with four throws," coordinator Mike LaFleur said of Wilson's last game action in the preseason opener before he injured his knee and didn't return until the Steelers game.

On top of that, Wilson and the offense opened smartly with their 10-0 lead, then hit the midgame doldrums as visiting teams often do in that venue.

Then came Styx and Renegade.

"I know when that fourth quarter hit and that music started going, you kind of know what that means when you're going into Pittsburgh," LaFleur said. "I don't think our guys flinched on either side of the ball."

And definitely not at QB. LaFleur noted Wilson's pocket presence, his escapability when a play was breaking down, his throws, his poise. Head coach Robert Saleh noticed the same.

"If you watch that fourth quarter, he's still hanging in the pocket, he's not retreating like a young kid," Saleh said. "On the flip side of when we got the interception, from retreating because of pressure that was coming from the middle, he's staying in the pocket, he's stepping up in the pocket, his feet are settled, he's delivering the ball, he's throwing dimes. All in the fourth quarter after just getting pressure all over the place, which tells me that he's playing fearless, he's playing with confidence."

Wilson said it wasn't just himself leading the Jets on 81- and 65-yard drives, on 10-of-12 passing, to the two touchdowns that flipped the Steelers' script.

"Really, it was just resilience from everybody up front," he said. "The offensive line hunkering down, anchoring down, giving me some good time back there, the receivers doing a great job 1-on-1, separating, the defense getting some great stops, not quitting. Everybody understanding the NFL can be ugly and wins can be hard to come by."

That's the double-edged sword that the second-year man from Draper, UT, and BYU has already grasped. There are plenty of good reasons for not being able to pull out an ugly win in a hostile environment after not playing live football for seven weeks. And yet it's expected of first-round draft picks like Zach Wilson, every time it happens.

See the top photos from Thursday's practice leading up to the home game against the Dolphins.

Now that he's put that first victory of '22 and the first last-minute comeback win under his belt, the Dolphins come calling at MetLife on Sunday for his and the Jets' first division test of the season. There are lots of reasons the 'Fins will be ready to fly on the road. But Wilson will have put another week of practice into his personal file as well. (He practiced full Thursday after being limited the day before by a sore ankle).

And that last drive at Pittsburgh may well reverberate against the Dolphins and through a few other foes on the Jets' schedule. Where did the confidence come from for Wilson to guide the Jets to Breece Hall's winning score with 16 seconds to play?

"I think part of it is our mentality as an offense," he said. "What we're trying to do, this growth, mindset. You step in the huddle, look at the situation, feel the situation, the vibes. You look everybody in the eye and say, 'Hey, we're going to go down there and score.'

"I learned a lot from that last drive. It's going to be big for us moving forward."

"What you'd like to see from the entire offense," Saleh said, "is just continue to jell and harness what we did in that fourth quarter. If we do that, we can be pretty explosive."

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