Lombardi: A look ahead to NFL Week 16

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After their final home game of the 2022 season, Jet fans have all the ammunition and data to evoke the 20-game quarterback evaluation rule.  The evaluation rule is simple:  Allow a young, highly valued draft pick to start and finish twenty games before deciding on his future.  Don’t get too high or too low—stay the course and be completely objective before making a final decision.  Let the 20 games speak for themselves. 

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The Jets have used the 20-game rule before (it seems like they have been using the rule for the last 20-plus years), so this isn’t a new concept.  Sam Darnold, their first-round pick in 2018, started 26 games after two seasons, winning 11 and losing 15.  He threw 36 touchdown passes, 28 interceptions, and averaged 6.9 yards per attempt.  He led the Jets on three fourth-quarter comebacks and four game-winning drives.  In addition, he had two different coordinators.  By year three, the verdict came in, and Darnold was traded to Carolina, allowing Zach Wilson, another second-overall pick to take over. 

Last night in an almost must-win game for the Jets to keep their playoff hopes alive, Wilson started his 21st game.  Wilson has won eight of those games, lost 13, completed 55% of his passes thrown for 15 touchdowns and 17 interceptions, averaging 6.5 yards per attempt, and he has two fourth-quarter comebacks and three game-winning drives.  Not good on paper, and it looks worse when watching him play. 

The most alarming aspect of Wilson’s performance to date is his lack of overall improvement in any area. In fact, he is getting worse with each game.  Last night, he was benched again, surely ending his 2022 season and perhaps his career as a Jet.  If you didn’t think things could get worse for Wilson after the New England game in Foxboro, then you were wrong.  Last night was rock bottom.  Against one of the worse secondaries and pass-defending teams by almost every metric, Wilson could not make the simple plays.  He couldn’t throw an accurate ball on a hitch or any quick throws.  When you examine his 21 starts, Wilson has only two games throwing above a 65% completion percentage, which is the norm for the NFL.  Wilson’s completion numbers look like he played in the 60s when the short passing game didn’t exist, and the rules favored the defense.  For an NFL starting quarterback to not complete over 63% of his passes, something is badly wrong, and we don’t have to remind Jet fans of how wrong. 

So, what happened to the quarterback who, according to head coach Robert Saleh, checked every box?  At "The things that we value in quarterback play, he checks every box," Saleh said. "You talk about arm strength and accuracy—check. The ability to work off-schedule and make plays—check. Fearless in the pocket—check. His ability to recall, process and make the right decisions to get the ball where it needs to go without turning the ball over. …He is a special young man.”  Look, we all make mistakes on drafting players—and no one is immune to the mistakes—but this one is a killer because the person they thought they were acquiring is nowhere near the reality.  All those checked boxes are lies—all of them.  Not intentional or malicious rather, Wilson hasn’t been that player. 

Because the Jets are at this crossroads, they stare into the sunk-cost fallacy abyss.   Sunk-cost fallacy is the phenomenon whereby a person or organization is reluctant to abandon a strategy or course of action because they have invested heavily in it, even when it is clear.  Jet fans know it’s clear they don’t want Wilson back—in fact, any young Jet fan whose parents purchased a Wilson jersey for Christmas is heading back to the mall as you read this for a quick exchange.  Forget the fans, the locker room knows Wilson isn’t good enough.  When Chris Streveler came into the game and moved the ball with his arm and feet, running the same plays repeatedly, the team rallied and felt like there was hope in a hopeless game.  Saleh or general manager Joe Douglas cannot fool the locker room.  They know—and they knew before the 20th game. 

Moving forward, the Jets will position the Wilson saga as a young player that needs more time.  They will re-sign Mike White and pretend there is an open competition for the starting job next year.  They will tell more lies, and they will do it with a straight face even though no one will believe them.  We all know that is not true.  The team wants White as their starter, and Wilson has little to no trade value based on his horrendous play.  Think about it, what game would you evaluate during Wilson’s 21 starts that would make you believe it was all the Jets’ fault, not his?  The fourth quarter of the Steeler game this season?  The Tennessee game in 2021?  The point here is he doesn’t have good game tape. 

What makes matters worse for Douglas is all the people around the NFL who loved Wilson coming out of BYU are no longer fans, looking for their erasers—not because they missed on the talent evaluation, but rather because they missed on the work habits and commitment towards becoming a pro.  Those who loved Wilson (some thought he was better than Trevor Lawrence) believed he would be mature and become a gym rat, a player who had talent but behaved like an overachiever.  It proved to be completely wrong.  Wilson is now rattled, lacks confidence, and with every incomplete pass, he shrinks further.

With the loss last night, the Jets’ playoff chances are on life support.  Even with Mike White returning, it will be hard to become a playoff team.  The only positive that could come from this 1-5 record after the bye is they now can evoke the 20-game quarterback rule. 

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