Zach Wilson was optimistic during the week that he and the receivers and offensive teammates he was practicing with could rise to the challenge and get the job done against New Orleans.
That's not how it shook out in the Jets' 30-9 loss to the Saints at MetLife Stadium.
"Just not executing, that's really what it all comes down to," Wilson said after the game. "I've got to make better throws, we've got to establish better drives."
Instead, Wilson and his the injury-riddled unit struggled all game. No touchdowns, 13 first downs, 256 yards — with 131 of those yards coming in the last quarter. Five 3-and-out series, including the first three possessions of the game. Wilson completing 19 of 42 passes for 202 yards.
Yes, there were dropped passes — RB Ty Johnson had three, all in the first quarter — and costly penalties — WR Denzel Mims had two back-to-back that turned 1st-and-10 at the Saints 24 into 1st-and-25 at the 39 and ultimately into Eddy Piñeiro's second field goal of three late in the first half.
"They hit my hands, I dropped it. What else is there to say?" Johnson said of his drops. "I can make those catches, and I believe in myself to make those catches, but I just didn't give eyes to the ball and look it all the way in. I told Zach, 'That was completely on me. If it touches my hands, I need to bring them in, simple as that.' That's what I told him on the sideline, that's what I told him in the locker room just now."
But there were also Wilson misfires, a dirted ball for TE Ryan Griffin and a bounced bubble screen pass to Braxton Berrios, which head coach Robert Saleh commented on.
"Zach had a couple that got away," Saleh said. "He also had a couple that were on the spot and we didn't help him. It's something he's got to improve on, I won't hide from that. ... But I'm not concerned about the long-term view of whether or not he can complete a short ball."
Wilson said of the bubble screen, "That one just slipped off my hand. I've got to be able to move on from those, just trust it and be able to let it rip. That's what it comes down to."
Even though Wilson and Saleh and all the Jets talked confidently about next-man-up and, in Johnson's words, "there's opps out there, let's just ride," there seemed to b a distinct feeling among fans and media that being without No. 1 wideout Corey Davis and top rookie pass-catcher Elijah Moore, not to mention RB Tevin Coleman as a rush and pass option, hurt the efficiency of the Jets' offense.
"There should be no difference," Wilson said. "I thought the guys today really stepped up. I've got to give them better throws, put them in better situations. Obviously it would've been nice to have those guys out there, but that's how the NFL goes."
See the Top Images from the Field and Following the Game at MetLife Stadium
The Jets remain behind their young quarterback, foremost among them Braxton Berrios, who stepped up in the absence of Davis and Moore to post six receptions for 52 yards, modest numbers normally yet both game highs.
"That's the thing about Zach — I've never seen him flinch," Berrios said. "That's why we continue to love him here. He has everything it takes. We've got to help him out. It doesn't fall on him. Dropped balls, penalties we're making, there's lots of things we can do to help him out."
And Wilson is doing everything he can think of to help out his teammates. He explained that process toward the end of his postgame news conference.
"I'm a rookie, I just got here. I never once told myself this was going to be easy when I got here," he said. "I never looked at it as being down on myself, like this is how my career is going. Everything I went through today was a learning process for the future.
"And I'm banking every single rep I go through. I'm comparing one that I missed to one that I hit ... it's correcting those mistakes, just getting more and more looks. And I just feel like I need to understand that, yeah, it hurts sometimes, but it's all part of the process to improve."
The next part of that process comes this week, to prepare for his and the Saleh Jets' first trip to Miami to play the Dolphins, coming off their bye, next Sunday.