Robert Saleh had only one choice.
It was the correct choice.
The Jets head coach had to do it for every other player in his locker room, a place that was growing restless with the repeated mistakes that second-year quarterback Zach Wilson was making on a team that’s proven it’s capable and ready to win now.
Evidence has been mounting that Wilson was holding this team back at a time when it’s proven it has a playoff-worthy defense and above-average special teams (that fateful Patriots punt return last week notwithstanding) as it stands a mere game out of first place in the AFC East.
Saleh read the room and he read the standings and knew what he had to do.
“We’re going to roll with Mike White,’’ Saleh said Wednesday, referring to the Jets backup quarterback who was a one-Sunday hero last season with a magical victory over the Super Bowl runner-up Bengals in relief of an injured Wilson.
Also making this decision imperative at the moment was the lack of maturity Wilson has displayed at times. Saleh had to be alarmed with the way Wilson handled himself in the aftermath of Sunday’s 10-3 loss to the Patriots in a game that he and the offense cost the team.
In what became a damaging moment — one Wilson on Wednesday did a good job beginning to live down — he was asked after the game if he felt like he and the offense “let down’’ the defense after producing 2 yards of net offense in the second half, his answer was, “No.’’ That sent a terrible message to his teammates who had played their butts off in New England and deserved a better result.
Saleh said Wilson’s postgame performance — which bordered on being more egregious than his in-game performance — had “no bearing on this decision,’’ because that’s what he had to say publicly.
“For Zach, maybe there was a little irritation [on the part of teammates] at the moment, but I don’t think there is a grudge,’’ Saleh said.
It’s quite a fall for the second-overall pick in last year’s draft to be benched just 20 starts into his career. He won’t even be in uniform for Sunday’s home game against the Bears as veteran Joe Flacco will be elevated to the No. 2 role. Until further notice, Wilson is the Jets’ new scout-team quarterback.
The benching represents an admission on the part of the Jets that it appears they made an expensive mistake in drafting Wilson that high, and that they no longer believe him to be the franchise quarterback they drafted him to be.
This, of course, Saleh went out of his way to dispute — again because he had to do so publicly.
“We haven’t wavered in our feeling that he’s going to be the future of this franchise,’’ Saleh said. “Zach’s career is not over. I know that’s going to be the narrative, and that’s not even close to the case. The full intent is to make sure that Zach gets back on the football field at some point this year. When that is, I’ll make that decision. I’m going to take that day-to-day.’’
Barring a complete flop on the part of White, the reality is that Wilson’s best chance to play again would if the Jets, 6-4 right now, fall out of playoff contention.
The best thing to come out of Wednesday was how well Wilson handled the demotion. He began his day by addressing the entire team to apologize for his poor play and for his postgame comment.
Afterward, speaking to reporters for the first time since Sunday, he sounded genuinely humbled, sincere and accountable, things that resonated with his teammates. It all felt like a signature moment in his growth process, one that should serve him well.
Wilson called his demotion “tough, but it’s deserved.’’
He said he wasn’t “necessarily surprised’’ by the demotion “because I haven’t been doing my job.’’
Addressing his postgame comment in New England, Wilson said, “The way that I handled the situation wasn’t right. I’ve got to be a better football player and I’ve got be a better leader for these guys.’’
Part of Wilson’s message to his teammates was that he’s focused on getting better and winning his job back.
“What he said was very genuine,’’ cornerback D.J. Reed told The Post. “It came from his heart. It was very real. He definitely poured his heart out. If he didn’t already have it, he definitely earned and gained everyone’s respect from what he said today.’’
A difficult day for the Jets possibly ended in a positive way. If White plays well and helps them beat the Bears on Sunday and Wilson is truly better from this adversity, then Wednesday was a win for the Jets.