Fast starts are nice but forceful finishes can be nicer. Sixty minutes are required but the last 15 are often essential to sealing the deal.
The subject is fourth quarters. And Zach Wilson appears to be incredibly familiar with the topic, considering the record-book way he and the Jets offense have attacked the final frames of the last two games since the second-year QB returned from his knee injury rehab.
"I just think as the game goes on, you get more comfortable," Wilson explained about his mindset going into those two very different yet similarly rewarding 15-minute finales. "You're not being complacent, you're taking what the defense gives you, and having that mentality of just going all the way to the end."
Recall that Wilson directed drives of 81 and 65 yards to fourth-quarter touchdowns that lifted the Jets past the Steelers 24-20. Then last week he and the offense caught fire with shorter series of 56, 5 and 30 yards for TDs that allowed the Green & White to pull away from the Dolphins for their 40-17 division win.
The question presents itself: When was the last time a Jets QB or offense produced five touchdowns in five fourth-quarter drives in back-to-back games? The answer, you may have suspected, is never. Wilson is the first QB in the franchise's 979 regular-season and playoff games to achieve that late-game paydirt avalanche.
Other Jets quarterbacks have come close to achieving what Wilson has these last two games. Joe Namath didn't do it himself but he and backup Babe Parilli combined for five touchdowns in two fourth quarters in the middle of the 1968 season. Other five-TD leaders were Ray Lucas late in his career-highlight 1999 season and Brett Favre early in his lone Jets campaign in 2008. Still others have assembled four-TD final frames in consecutive games — Richard Todd, Ken O'Brien, Chad Pennington and Mark Sanchez.
But no other Jets QB has strung together five fourth-quarter TD drives in a row. Nor has any other Jets QB totaled five such TD drives in fewer than seven possessions. Wilson has done it in six possessions, with his final series vs. Miami consisting of two kneeldowns to end the game.
"It's crazy, man," said WR Corey Davis, who's been a part of the comebacks with Joe Flacco and Wilson as well as the Dolphins defeat. "It's real good to see though, man. He's coming into himself, he's getting confident, running a great operation. It's really good to see."
Here are details on the four back-to-back fourth-quarter five-TD QBs in franchise history:
|Year, Games||Opponents||Jets QBs||TD Drvs (Consec)||Tot Drvs (nonscores)|
|1968 Gms 6-7||@ HOU, vs BOS||JNamath / BParilli||5 (4)||7 (lod, int)|
|1999 Gms 12-13||@ NYG, vs MIA||Ray Lucas||5 (4)||7 (punt, fg)|
|2008 Gms 3-4||@ SD, vs ARZ||Brett Favre||5 (3)||7 (fg, mfg)|
|2022 Gms 4-5||@ PIT, vs MIA||Zach Wilson||5 (5)||6 (kneeldown)|
Wilson, offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur and head coach Robert Saleh prefer not to focus on the leader but rather on all of the supporting cast on both sides of the ball in executing these scoring drives.
"You just look at this group," Saleh said. " When the fourth quarter comes, there's just so much confidence to be able to get the job done. There's so much confidence in their individual playing ability and so much confidence as different units to be able to get the job done. We have a bunch of guys who love the game, they're focused on the moment, they go one play at a time — all the clichés. It just feels like that's what you see and what they represent on the football field, especially when the fourth quarter hits."
"Zach's totally invested in doing what's best for the Jets each and every play, each and every week," LaFleur said. "That's not different from last year in terms of his mindset. He's just more comfortable with the league and the speed of it, he's more comfortable with the offense, he's more comfortable with his teammates."
See the top photos from Thursday's practice leading up to the road game in Green Bay.
And Wilson was asked specifically about his skill position players' contributions. Four different players contributed the scoring plays in his five-TD streak: Davis, Breece Hall (twice), Michael Carter and Braxton Berrios.
"We've got playmakers all around. You can't scheme us and say if we take away this one guy, they're not going to have another element in the pass game," Wilson said. "It shows we have the ability to spread the ball around. One guy's going to go off each and every game. We're slowly finding our identity as an offense as well, so it's a good thing to have that many guys that can get open."
To be sure, Wilson's and his offense's identity will not be as the team that scores a touchdown every series of every fourth quarter. A great third-down catch en route to six can easily turn into an incompletion and a field goal or a punt or a loss on downs — streak over. Strong defenses like the Packers will bring into Lambeau Field on Sunday could have a lot to say about how successful Wilson will be in that prime period.
But for now he's known as the QB who's trying to extend his franchise-record stretch from five fourth-quarter TD drives in a row to six and more (not counting the kneeldown) and put another win, another road W, and a win over his boyhood idol, Aaron Rodgers, into the books.
"I'd say the expectation is changing," Wilson said following the fantastic Miami finish. "We're expected to win and to be shocked when we don't. That's how the mindset needs to be for everybody."
Not only but especially when he and the Jets shift into fourth gear.