FLORHAM PARK, N.J. – Zach Wilson is getting another start for the New York Jets, and this one in prime time.
Coach Robert Saleh announced the decision Tuesday that Wilson will be under center Thursday night against the Jacksonville Jaguars as the Jets (7-7) try to hold on in the AFC playoff hunt.
“I know I’m extremely excited just to get back on the field and get after it again,” Wilson said. “And it's going to be a good matchup.”
With Mike White not cleared for contact by doctors as he recovers from broken ribs, Saleh and the Jets will have Wilson make a second straight start in his return from a three-game benching.
“With Zach, he knows to prepare like he's the No. 1 (quarterback),” Saleh said.
Wilson, who had an up-and-down performance Sunday, has been taking the snaps with the starters during walkthrough practices this week, while White has been limited.
The decision sets up the second meeting between the top two picks from last year's draft, with Jacksonville's Trevor Lawrence (No. 1 overall) squaring off against Wilson, who went second. The Jets hung on for a 26-21 victory last December.
While Lawrence has blossomed in his second season, Wilson has continued to struggle and gives the Jets some pause as to whether he's their long-term solution at quarterback.
“No one’s going to give up on someone just because it feels like if it doesn’t show up in Year 1 or Year 2, it’s like, move on,” Saleh said.
Wilson was 18 of 35 for 317 yards and two touchdowns in the Jets' 20-17 loss to Detroit, having a good first two quarters, a dismal third and a solid fourth. He led New York to a go-ahead score late and was driving the Jets to a potential tying field goal in the final seconds.
“Zach is growing,” Saleh said. “He’s growing with this team, he's growing with all of us. It’s just a matter of reps. And the more he sees it, the faster he’ll play. The faster he plays, the faster he’ll get the ball out. As things happen faster, his natural playing ability will come into play because he’s not thinking.
"But to get to a world where you’re playing without thought, you’ve got to get reps.”
Wilson said he spoke to multiple former NFL quarterbacks while he was benched to seek their insight on how to handle his situation. Among those he chatted with were his personal quarterbacks coach John Beck, Pro Football Hall of Famers Steve Young and Kurt Warner, and Drew Brees.
“The biggest thing was there's always going to be these ups and downs in football and you always have to believe in yourself and rely on your support system and understand this is all just kind of part of the process,” Wilson said. "Some of the biggest things I took from it was where you want to get, this is just going to help you get there faster.
“And the bumps, the ups and downs, it's tough, but you'll eventually make your way through it. And along the way, you're able to learn a lot of really good lessons and you're able to almost be more aware as well.”
White was twice knocked from the Jets’ loss to the Bills in Buffalo on Dec. 11 by big hits. He finished the game but left the stadium in an ambulance to be examined at a hospital. After X-rays at the stadium were clear, CT scans revealed the rib fractures.
Saleh said White remains “week to week” in his recovery, but the Jets have not ruled him out for the rest of the season. White can practice but is waiting to be cleared to play in games.
“Everything for Mike is to give him the opportunity to seek a second opinion and for him and his team to kind of make sure all the boxes are being checked,” Saleh said. “So from our point as coaches, we're just allowing that process to happen and when everything aligns, we'll make a decision.”
The Jets (7-7) have lost three straight games and seen their playoff chances dwindle. They likely need to win out, starting with their game on short rest against Jacksonville (6-8). The Jaguars have clawed their way into the postseason hunt by winning two straight and three of four.
NOTES: Saleh ruled out WR Denzel Mims (concussion) and CB Brandin Echols (quadriceps) for the game. ... WR Corey Davis (concussion) and DT Quinnen Williams (calf) are “trending in the right direction,” Saleh said. The coach added that Williams' availability will likely be determined shortly before the game. “It feels a lot better than it did last week,” Saleh said.
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