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Zach Wilson, Robert Saleh & Jets Puzzle Over Ways to End Slow Offensive Starts

QB, Green & White Again Confront a Tale of Two Halves in Their 27-20 Loss to Falcons in London


Consider the fifth game of Zach Wilson's pro career, against Atlanta in London on Sunday, as a tough grad school course abroad. And a course that will have the rookie QB, his rookie head coach and the Jets' offensive operation studying and practicing like crazy all this next week before resuming their courseload back near their stateside campus at New England in two weeks.

They'll especially be cramming over the slow starts by the offense.

"I don't know what it is," Wilson said. "I've got to play better at the start, because it's interesting. In the second half every single game, we've looked really good. And we know what we're capable of and we were able to show it there at the end. But I think we've just got to get good rhythm going, some flow. Starting 3-and-out isn't the way to do it, sitting on the sideline."

Rest assured that head coach Robert Saleh, OC Mike LaFleur and Wilson have their ideas on what needs to happen, even if they weren't ready to reveal it after this latest tough loss. But getting it fixed is another matter.

Zach's final numbers were depressed compared to last week's career-best showing in the OT win over Tennessee — 19-of-32 passing for 192 yards, an interception and 230 yards of offense. But the first quarter and first half were even more difficult and in keeping with a theme from the first four games: 5-of-13 passing for 42 yards, 80 yards of offense, one field goal drive and a 20-3 deficit as they went into their Tottenham Hotspur Stadium locker room.

One look at one metric captures what the QB was referring to with the Jets' second half vs. first half performances. Wilson's first-half passing line this season is 30-of-63 for 292 yards, no TDs, 6 INTs and a 21.5 passer rating. In the second halves plus one overtime, his line is 68-of-108 for 825 yards, 4 TDs, 3 INTs and an 87.2 rating.

But as enlightening as it may be, Wilson said it's not a matter of needing the first 30 minutes to get used to the speed of the game for the last 30.

"Of course I'm playing slower, I feel the game is going to keep getting slower as I get older and keep getting reps. But I wouldn't say that's the reason we're having these struggles early in the game," Wilson said. "I think it's a confidence thing team-wide. It's demoralizing and it kills our tempo and our energy."

The rookie put some more of the blame on his own shoulder pads by talking about his first-half accuracy, which led to several missed throws and his ninth interception.

"We've just got to come out slinging it right from the beginning," he said. "I've got to come out and throw that thing. I made the right reads and I just missed some throws. I can't come out and just miss throws. They're not throws that are hard. The coaches are putting us in good position. We've just got to get some momentum going."

The lack of downfield throws until the second half is part of that tale-of-two-halves story. But Saleh said it's not for lack of LaFleur not dialing things up early.

"Mike called an aggressive game and there were some shots down the field," Saleh said, "but you can only take what the defense is giving you, which leads to checkdowns, which leads to intermediate stuff. Credit their defense. They played a lot of 2-high, which doesn't warrant shots over 2-high safeties. When they got a little more aggressive in man coverage — the shot to Elijah Moore. It's all based on what the defense is willing to give you.

"We just couldn't get the momentum going, couldn't convert on some third-and-shorts, and defensively we just couldn't get off the field, so there was no chance for anyone to get into a rhythm that first half. Second half, it started to pick up ... too little, too late."

And Wilson insisted he and his offensive teammates were ready out of the gate for Atlanta as well as their first four foes.

"I would just say it's a block that we've got to get over," he said. "It's like our mindset is, 'Hey, we didn't start well but we know we can do well in the second half.' But we've got to do well the whole game. We can't keep trying to come from behind. The NFL is too hard to always come from behind."

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