Zach to the future: BYU alum Zach Wilson is “the guy” in New York once again

Redemption is a beautiful thing.

One day you’re being treated to a rabid chorus of boos — from your own fans! — as you head for a mid-game benching on national television.

You lose your job. Your teammates celebrate acquiring your replacement. The dream is dying.

You’ve gone from hero to zero, from prodigy to punchline. The world is against you. Everything looks bleak.

But in just a single snap, you can get back up and back on top.

When Zach Wilson arrived at MetLife Stadium on Monday, I bet he was far from unsatisfied with his current situation. Rather than kick the so-called “bust” to the curb altogether, the Jets pulled off the league’s offseason blockbuster in trading for living legend Aaron Rodgers, giving Wilson the chance to back up and learn from his boyhood idol. The spotlight that had burned him so often since his April 2021 drafting would finally be off of the third-year quarterback. After stumbling as a starter for two years, Wilson could now just observe from the sidelines, further develop his skillset far away from any attention and regain his confidence while becoming best buds with Rodgers.

Such comfort wouldn’t last long.

The Rodgers era in New York spanned for all of four snaps before the four-time MVP winner went down with an injury to his $112.5 million achilles. For a national, primetime Monday Night Football audience, there was no better drama. For a Jets organization that had gone all-in for a Rodgers-led Super Bowl, it wasn’t just disastrous— it was apocalyptic. Just ask Robert Saleh.

Wilson had to have known that none of the 83,000-plus fans in attendance wanted anything to do with him as he took the field. His presence only meant that the original plan had failed. The last time he had been on that field in the regular season, he had been booed off of it against the Jaguars in December. Now, back in primetime once again, the bench wasn’t an option. Wilson was the last quarterback standing.

Just a few hours later, MetLife was bursting with joy. Rookie Xavier Gipson had stunned the favored Bills with a game-winning punt return touchdown in overtime to clinch a Jets victory. It was exciting. It was magical.

It was a win for Zach Wilson.

Sure, he didn’t provide nor participate in the winning score. He wasn’t on defense for any of Buffalo’s four committed turnovers. He still threw an interception, appeared flustered at times and came up short in critical situations, but he got the win.

On a night where he wasn’t even supposed to play, just getting the win merited plenty of praise.

His stats weren’t earth-shattering — 14-21 in passing for 140 yards and a 81.6 rating — but they were enough. Wilson led four scoring drives, including a high-stakes connection with Garrett Wilson for one of the most sensational touchdown grabs in recent memory.

The Jets didn’t win because of Wilson, they won with him. They didn’t need him to be Superman and do too much. He just needed to be ready at a moment’s notice — and he was — to do enough to give the offense chances to score and not turn the ball over. He did exactly what was needed of him. For a young player criticized in the past for either trying to play hero ball or being unable to handle pressure, Wilson showed substantial growth in his poise and maturity under center.

The Jets are 1-0, and with Rodgers’ injury likely to end his season, Saleh has already anointed Wilson as “the guy” going forward. Second chances are hard to come by in the cruel world of the NFL, but Wilson has been given one. That’s huge.

New York’s roster was constructed specifically for Rodgers to arrive and deliver it to the postseason. The defense is outstanding. Breece Hall, Dalvin Cook and Garrett Wilson headline an explosive arsenal of offensive weapons. The injured Rodgers will essentially become another offensive coordinator.

All the pieces are in place for Wilson to take that next step.

No one expected him to be in this position, which makes him all the more dangerous to face.

It may take time to get the fans back on his side, but winning can fix everything.

Just like Monday night, the Jets won’t need Wilson to do too much. There’s enough talent around him to make his job much more manageable. He doesn’t have to play like a hero; in fact, the more conservative and calculated Wilson plays, the more of a hero he’ll become.

The Jets had hoped to give Wilson a few years to develop behind Rodgers, but now he’ll need to grow up as fast as possible to be the quarterback New York needs for a postseason push. There’s work to do, but there’s no better place to start than from 1-0.

Wilson enjoyed his first taste of sweet redemption Monday night. Let’s just hope there’s a lot more left in the bottle.

Jackson Payne is the lead columnist at Daily Universe Sports. Follow him on X @jackson5payne.

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