Patriots: Why New York Jets are a credible threat vs New England

Jan 3, 2021; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots wide receiver Jakobi Meyers (16) stiff arms New York Jets safety Matthias Farley (41) during the second half at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 3, 2021; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots wide receiver Jakobi Meyers (16) stiff arms New York Jets safety Matthias Farley (41) during the second half at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports /
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Jan 3, 2021; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold (14) drops back against the New England Patriots during the first half at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports /

Look out, Patriots. The New York Jets pose a credible threat for the first time in years to the Pats, starting with rookie gunslinger Zach Wilson.

The New York Jets want to win starting right now, with a strong-armed, accurate 22-year-old rookie quarterback throwing bullets to finally outgun their arch nemesis, the New England Patriots.

Normally “win now” and “rookie quarterback” should not be used in the same sentence. However, Zach Wilson has had three full years at Brigham Young University. In contrast, Sam Darnold was only 21 when he came into the NFL in 2018 and predictably went 4-9 as a starter.

A little-known but amazing stat is that, among NFL quarterbacks who came into the NFL at age 21 and started three or more games as a rookie, only two have had winning records: David Woodley of the 1980 Dolphins at 6-5 and Lamar Jackson at 6-1. In contrast, many 22-year-olds have had winning records, topped by Ben Roethlisberger’s 13-0 mark in 2004.

There can be an enormous difference between a 22-year-old and a 21-year-old NFL quarterback.

Wilson, despite his baby-faced appearance, has a chance to be ready sooner rather than later and can probably operate an NFL offense for rookie head coach Robert Saleh and offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur. The same maturity argument can be applied to Mac Jones of the Patriots, who would seem to have an edge after playing three years on college football’s largest stage for the Alabama Crimson Tide.

Jones will be 23 years old this September 5. There does not seem to be any rush to have him start immediately, given that the Patriots still have a former league MVP in Cam Newton available.  But Jones will be fine if called upon, and Wilson is probably viable also, if not quite as NFL-ready immediately.

League-wide, typical bad logic used by bad teams is to resolve quarterback controversies by cutting off other reasonable options. The Jets were guilty of this when they dispatched Slingin’ Sam Darnold to Carolina. Now, the only quarterback in Jets camp remotely resembling a veteran is Josh Johnson, who has a victory as a starting NFL quarterback. That is not a grammatical fault. The indefinite article “a” denotes one and only one victory as an NFL starting quarterback, which occurred back in 2018, versus seven career losses. That’s it. No one else in Jets camp has an NFL win as a starting quarterback.

In fact, no one on the Jets roster has thrown a touchdown pass to a New York Jet. Even the Patriots’ Jarrett Stidham has a Jets TD pass, in the form of a pick-six to Jamal Adams who, ironically, is no longer a Jet.

So, Jets, what are you going to do to protect your kid from Patriots pass rushers, the likes of Matt Judon, Lawrence Guy, Kyle Van Noy, Chase Winovich and company? Their answer was to sign 6-foot-6, 330-pound Morgan Moses from the Washington Football Team and Dan Feeney from the Los Angeles Chargers. In addition, they traded up to draft Alijah Vera-Tucker from USC. Holdover Mekhi Becton, a nimble 6-foot-7, 369-pound bonecrusher and the newly-added Moses will bookend the pocket for Wilson. However, the Jets also allowed star guard Pat Elflein to escape to Carolina.

Nevertheless, if success starts up front, the Jets have provided for their guy from the get-go. This is a positive. So many teams try to provide balance after drafting a quarterback and proceed to develop the defense, figuring the quarterback will learn from each near-death experience. For example, the Cincinnati Bengals used this method in 2020, waiting until Round 6 to draft an offensive lineman, and signing a $3 million/year lineman in free agency to replace a $4 million/year lineman, as part of the learning process for first overall pick Joe Burrow. The result was reconstructive knee surgery, a great learning process for surgeons, but not conducive to winning football games. The Jets strategy makes more sense in real life. The Bengals strategy is useful only for playing Madden football.

Former Titan Corey Davis, Jamison Crowder and ex-Jaguar Keelan Cole are currently listed as the starting receivers. They would love to see second-round draft pick Elijah Moore become a starter sooner rather than later. Moore is going to get his chances, but there is no great urgency, as their veterans should improve significantly with a better quarterback chucking the ball from the pocket, rather than someone throwing while being tackled. At press time, Moore had suffered a quad injury and might be slowed for a while. The receiving corps was probably not the Jets’ problem last season, and in fact they were pretty good last year and have only gotten better.

The Jets have decent depth at tight end, too, with Chris Herndon, Ryan Griffin and Tyler Croft, but those names do not really frighten the Patriots.

Additionally, we like the Patriots secondary more than the Jets receiving corps. Cornerbacks J.C. Jackson, Jonathan Jones, Stephon Gilmore and Jalen Mills can cover these guys, with help from free safeties Devin McCourty and Cody Davis, and additional help from the linebackers.

So, how do the Jets improve and give New England a genuine challenge?