EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ — New York Jets quarterback Zach Wilson suffered perhaps the most humiliating game of his NFL career, as he was booed Thursday night at MetLife Stadium and replaced by former practice squad quarterback Chris Streveler in a 19-3 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars.
“Yeah, it’s [tough],” Wilson said of the booing fans. “I don’t blame them. We have a passionate fan base, and they’re here to watch us score touchdowns. We’re not scoring touchdowns, we’re not getting first downs, we’re not moving the ball and, obviously, we can’t throw the ball. Of course they’re going to be frustrated.”
Wilson completed only nine of 18 passes for 92 yards and an interception, which came on a desperation heave before halftime. He finished with a 5.2 QBR. It was the Jets’ fourth straight loss, all but killing their playoff chances.
Coach Robert Saleh said he didn’t consider benching Wilson at halftime even though they had only 66 total yards and trailed 13-3, but he removed him with 3:31 remaining in the third quarter. By then, it was 16-3. In came Streveler, who had been elevated from the practice squad only hours before the game. He immediately led the offense to its longest drive, although it didn’t result in any points.
Saleh said he didn’t bench Wilson, per se. He said he went to Streveler with hope that his running ability would spark their dormant ground game. While that might have been the initial reason for the change, Saleh let Streveler play for the remainder of the game, keeping Wilson, the 2021 second overall pick, on the bench.
Wilson was benched five weeks ago in favor of Mike White, a former fifth-round pick of the Dallas Cowboys who sparked the offense. Thursday night, he was replaced by a journeyman whose claim to fame was three come-from-behind wins in the preseason.
“We were trying to change up to get the run game going,” Saleh said. “I know Zach was struggling. Streveler came in, he ran a couple of plays, sparked the offense and got the explosive play. It snowballed in a good way for Strev. So we wanted to give him an opportunity to finish the drive. By the time we got it back, we decided we’re already here, so let’s go with Strev.”
The Jets showed signs of life with Streveler, who rushed for 54 yards and completed 10 of 15 passes for 90 yards in his season debut.
Wilson stayed on the sideline, ready to return to the game, but he never got the call. The rain-soaked crowd roared when Streveler came in, and the fans loved his gritty, improvisational style. The pregame plan was to use him with a small package of running plays, but they expanded his repertoire as the fourth quarter went on.
The Jets activated three quarterbacks for the first time, with Streveler and Joe Flacco backing up Wilson. Flacco saw no action.
Wilson said he had no issue with the third-quarter change.
“We had nothing there,” he said of the offense. “You can’t blame [Saleh] in that situation. He put Chris out there, and he’s obviously great with his legs and his arm, and he was able to give us a little spark there. You could see that was the most we moved the ball all day, so you can’t blame him.”
It was the first time that Wilson was replaced in-game in a non-injury situation. On Nov. 23, he was benched for the first time in his life after a 77-yard passing day against the New England Patriots.
He seemed at a loss for words, admitting his confidence is shaken and saying he wasn’t good enough for his teammates.
“Man, I don’t know,” he said. “I just felt like I didn’t have any rhythm out there. [I was] just trying to find some confidence out there on the field, just find something to get us going — a little spark. I couldn’t get anything there, man.
“Yeah, it’s tough and I’m working my way through it,” Wilson added. “But I have to be optimistic here. I believe in myself, regardless if anyone else does.”
Saleh said, “You’d be remiss if you didn’t try to acknowledge the fact that there’s a confidence thing there because when people are confident they can conquer the world. We have to help him and it starts with coaching.”
Saleh declined to speculate on his Week 17 starter. Chances are, they will go back to White (fractured ribs), but he still hasn’t been cleared for contact. If he’s not cleared, the Jets will have a tough decision.
“We haven’t seen the last of him,” Saleh said of Wilson.