Zach Wilson's first game of his second season as the Jets quarterback of the present and future, his first game action in seven weeks since injuring his right knee, was one of those games of ups and downs. Big ups and big downs.
And, oh yeah, after the big downs, some even more massive ups that enable Wilson and the Jets to pull out another road comeback victory, this one over their previously hard-to-beat AFC North foes from Pittsburgh.
"All the ups and downs of trying to overcome adversity, it was just such a good win," Wilson said following Sunday's return from a 20-10 deficit to an expertly orchestrated 24-20 come-from-behind win over the Steelers — only the Green & White's second win in 12 visits to the Steel City. "The offensive line was fighting all the way to the end. All the guys in different positions needed to come up big for us and they were making me feel comfortable back there.
"I think there was so much growth those last two minutes as an offense, executing a drive as clean as it was and punching it in. It was just awesome."
"Zach doesn't flinch," said head coach Robert Saleh, creating another one of his sweatshirt slogans a little bit later by saying of his whole team, "No Flinch." "I'm sure there were a couple of plays he wishes he had back. But he got us out of a lot of bad situations with his mobility. I thought he played a pretty good game his first game back."
As for the tripartite nature of the victory, it looked at first as if Wilson had never been away rehabbing that knee. He led a short field goal drive after Lamarcus Joyner's deflection interception. Then came a 70-yard march to the touchdown that opened the Jets' 10-0 lead, their largest at any time, in fact, in any of their 12 games at Pittsburgh. And with it ending on the collaboration of the Simpatico Brothers, Braxton Berrios tossing a 2-yard score to a wide-open Wilson, it looked like an impossible wipeout of the always dangerous Steelers was in the air.
And then it wasn't.
"It's just the NFL, man," Wilson explained of how he suddenly looked like the rusty slinger he had every right to expect to be and playing behind an O-line that was scrambled even further as Alijah Vera-Tucker moved from RG to LT, Nate Herbig stepped in at RG and, late in the second quarter, rookie RT Max Mitchell departing with a knee injury and Conor McDermott returning to the trenches.
"We had some good things early, we scored, then things get stalled out. My mentality is just keep doing my job, keep doing my job, keep chipping away. That was my message and that's what everybody did. There was some frustration, but it was the right frustration. That was a cool opportunity for us to lose a lead like that and come all the way back for the win."
Before coming back, the Green & White yielded four unanswered scoring drives to the Black & Gold, two field goals to the offense led by starting QB Mitch Trubisky, then two TD marches directed by the new second-half starter, rookie Kenny Pickett. Along with two Wilson interceptions and a completion rate well under 50%, Acrisure Stadium (nee Heinz Field) awoke from its slumber and it seemed the momentum had irretrievably been given back to the Steelers as they opened their own 10-point lead.
But then, the comeback. The visitors' first touchdown was of the "answering" variety. Wilson led an 81-yard march to his 5-yard in-cut to WR Corey Davis with 7:31 left. On the drive he completed five of seven, including a 35-yarder to rookie Garrett Wilson and a 22-yarder to Davis that converted fourth-and-7 at the Pittsburgh 39.
"It's cool seeing those plays, right? It just shows the team effort there," Wilson said. "The O-line did a great job holding up there, making the pocket comfortable. And those guys did a great job separating in their routes. It's easy to hit them when they're doing all that for me."
Then the Jets defense got their third and second-to-last takeaway, off a high Pickett pass tipped by TE Pat Freiermuth into the hands of nickel Michael Carter II. The offense had the ball at its 35 with 3:34 remaining and all three timeouts left. What could possibly go wrong for ZW and the Green & White?
See the best images from the Week 4 victory over the Steelers in Pittsburgh.
As it turns out, not much.
"Yean, 100 percent from the beginning," Wilson said of whether he and his offensive team knew they would score. "I think there was no doubt in our minds, especially when I hit a couple of quick passes, we hit a couple of runs as an offense. You could just feel it."
Wilson's game, broken into its three different layers, shows that up-down-up feeling that left Jets fans wondering which direction would win out:
|Wilson Passing Line
|Through Jets 1st TD
|6-4-60-0 TD-0 INT
|1st TD thru PIT's last TD
|18-4-66-0 TD-2 INT
|Jets' last 2 TDs
But as Zach said, that's the NFL, it was just one of those games. On replay reviews and challenges, the Jets were the beneficiary of all three calls, including the last replay official's review of rookie RB Breece Hall breaking the goal line plane with the outheld ball on second-and-goal from the 2, then fumbling. The Jets recovered but not in the end zone. But the fumble call on the field was turned by replay review into the go-ahead TD.
Sixteen seconds later, the Jets' first .500 mark since opening 2018 at 3-3, their first 2-0 road start since 2015, was in the books
"It was a really cool NFL game," Saleh summed up. "For us to stay in it for 60 minutes, I'm really, really proud of the group. Exchanging blows with another opponent and being 2-2 right now is really good."
And so is having your starting quarterback back to help keep the faith and make it all happen.