They came to praise Zach Wilson, not bury him, on the night MetLife Stadium opened its arms again to Jets fans for the first time in 594 pandemic-tormented days.
It was only the annual Green & White Practice, and maybe 15,000 festive fans were in the house, so this was no occasion to bury Zach Wilson.
They sure could have if they had wanted to, though.
Wilson was intercepted twice, nearly was picked off a third time and could not get his team in the end zone.
Because this was the official start of his honeymoon, the boobirds were not inclined to introduce him to New York the way they will once the games begin to count.
Backups Mike White (two TD passes) and James Morgan (one TD pass) were the ones who got the crowd roaring.
Wilson wore his ever present white headband and chomped on gum as he faced the music on the podium in the interview room.
When he was asked to assess his performance, he was more accurate than he was on too many of his throws.
“Not great,” he said. “I have high expectations for myself and this offense. I gotta lead those guys, I gotta make better decisions. … Of course I’m gonna be frustrated with myself, but I’m gonna go back in the film room and find out what I can learn and get better from it.”
Mama Wilson said there’d be days like this. So did head coach Robert Saleh.
“These moments are priceless for him,” Saleh said. “He had some good moments and obviously he had some rookie moments.”
The communication between Wilson and offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur up in the box will take time, of course. Advantage, Gang Green. Disadvantage, Wilson’s receivers.
“Many times tonight we weren’t on the same page,” Wilson said. “I just gotta make good decisions. Ninety-five percent of a quarterback’s job is just decision-making.”
Saleh wondered whether Wilson’s first exposure to Jets fans might have affected him. Heaven help Wilson and everyone else if that was the case.
“The biggest learning jump for him was that it was under the lights, it was a bigger crowd,” Saleh said. “I believe the young man wanted to do his absolute best.”
Yes, he wanted to do his absolute best. No, this isn’t a kid susceptible to any stage fright. “Awesome,” was how he described the atmosphere. Asked if jitters played into his performance, Wilson said: “No. Not at all.”
It is always the rookie franchise quarterback who inspires the biggest hope for a better and brighter tomorrow.
Some fans might remember that Richard Todd started six games as a rookie in Joe Namath’s last season as a Jet … they had to wait a year for Ken O’Brien before then-coach Joe Walton traded Todd to New Orleans … they had to wait more than two seasons for Chad Pennington to take the baton from a fading Vinny Testaverde and prayed that he could one day be Joe Montana Lite, but no … they cheered when then-general manager Mike Tannenbaum traded up to land Mark Sanchez, who was Rex Ryan’s Week 1 starter and their Boy Wonder for the first two years of his career before the wheels came off … Geno Smith was never their Boy Wonder … they cheered again when then-GM Mike Maccagnan maneuvered to move up for Darnold, who was Todd Bowles’ Week 1 starter and was expected to take flight under Adam Gase, but of course never did.
From afar, from too far away, from their living rooms or wherever they settled to watch or listen to the games last season, Jets fans stopped pulling their hair out following an 0-13 start only because they were the front-runners in the Trevor Lawrence sweepstakes. But then, without fired defensive coordinator Gregg Williams available to call an ill-timed, inexplicable Cover Zero, the Jets shocked the Rams on the road, and then the Browns at home, and there went that dream.
So the faithful got to watch Wilson up close and personal for the first time under the lights, and from here to eternity, however long eternity lasts, they will hope he can show them everything that compelled GM Joe Douglas to make him the first quarterback taken after the Jaguars won the Trevor Lawrence sweepstakes.
They hope that Zach Wilson will grow into more than a consolation prize.
They hope that Zach Wilson, who will be their Week 1 starter, was the right pick over Trey Lance and Justin Fields and Mac Jones.
They hope that they can marvel at the improvisational magic they have heard so much about from Wilson’s right arm. They hope they can one day gawk at Wilson making the kind of throw they have seen from the likes of Aaron Rodgers or Patrick Mahomes. They hope they can watch a flick of his wrist become a deadly missile strike for a touchdown.
This was not that one night.
“It’s part of the process,” Wilson said.
Jets Hall of Fame fan Ira Lieberfarb was at the scrimmage with his wife Linda.
“He has all the tools to be a top quarterback,” Lieberfarb said. “He and the Jets have to groom him the right way. He needs to put in the work, and the Jets have to do something with a quarterback that they haven’t done in a long time and coach him up the right way.”
What, Wilson worry? With five weeks left before the regular-season opener?
“We’ll be ready for Week 1,” he said. He can ask any of the rookie franchise QBs who preceded him: Honeymoons don’t last forever.
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