If Bill Belichick is in Zach Wilson’s head, Wilson can prove that he isn’t in the game that could vault the Jets into the rarefied air of first place in the AFC East.
Belichick has made a Hall of Fame career out of humbling young franchise quarterbacks with his diabolical schemes and in-game adjustments, and if there is a time to exorcise demons and ghosts, this is it for Wilson on Sunday at Gillette Stadium.
Wilson has thrown seven interceptions in his last two full games against Belichick — three before the bye and four as a rookie — but the Jets hail his resiliency and he will carry a Bring It On mindset into Gillette Stadium on Sunday.
I asked him if he is in a good headspace right now, and he said, “Yeah, great headspace. We’re winning football games. We’re where we want to be and there’s still so much to improve on, and so from a team aspect we’re excited with where we’re at and this is gonna be a great challenge for us.”
The Jets have lost 13 straight times to the Patriots. Wilson has lost three of them.
This would mark the biggest, sweetest victory of his young career.
Beat Bill Belichick, already!
Slay the dragon, Kid.
“It’s frustrating, but for me, my mindset this week is taking it one play at a time, how can I make the best decision on that play, don’t get too far ahead of myself as far as feeling like I need a big play or I need to make something happen,” Wilson said. “Just trusting in the offense, trusting in the guys around me.”
In other words, build off out-dueling Josh Allen and beating the Bills.
“It’s gonna be a cool opportunity for us to go out there and try and take the good with us and just play efficient football,” Wilson said.
There were black T-shirts hanging in Jets lockers with D.R.L. in white letters: Do Right Longer. It is Robert Saleh’s message for every player, but the Jets won’t survive Belichick if Wilson doesn’t Do Right Longer. Throw the ball away and live for another day.
’It’s a frustrating game,” Wilson said, “you want to get things going.”
Don’t try to play hero against Belichick, Kid. Play the quarterback position the way your coaches need it to be played.
“The key is how quickly can you progress and be efficient with your thoughts and understand the pass rush,” Wilson said, “and sometimes where’s your quickest outlet to get a completion?”
Belichick is a daunting 72-19 against first- and second-year quarterbacks. What you see is not always what you think you see, or get. You can ask Sam Darnold, who saw ghosts one night, among others. Few defenses play man-to-man help the way the Patriots can.
“They just do different things, try and confuse you,” Wilson said. “You could definitely tell everybody knows what they’re doing on that side of the ball.”
This will be a telling barometer for whether Wilson is growing up.
“Historically, they’ve done a very good job against young quarterbacks,” offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur said, “but that can’t be an excuse.”
No excuses. Beat Bill Belichick.
“This kid is very, very resilient. … It’s cliché, but I swear by it,” LaFleur said.
Joe Flacco was a young quarterback once upon a time in Baltimore.
“I think every coaching staff probably has a little bit of a take on what to do, what not to do versus him, or hey, we have somebody on the staff that’s been up in New England before for a few years, and have a little insight on how they do things,” Flacco said. “Ultimately, I think the good thing about being a first- and second-year guy is you’re kind of oblivious to certain things, so you just go play football. And sometimes that’s what works best against him, just because they’re so game-plan specific week-to-week. They like to do the things they like to do, but you never know exactly what you’re gonna get based on looking at the film and stuff like that.
“So your ability to just go out there and turn off all the noise and just play football and go through your process definitely becomes important.”
Now we find out whether Wilson has been spooked by the seven interceptions in two full games against Belichick. (He was 6-for-10 for 51 yards before leaving with a right knee injury in the infamous 54-13 game last season at Gillette Stadium.)
“I don’t think he’s thinking about that, I think he’s confident just in terms of the strides that he made last week [against Buffalo] coming back from a game against New England,” Flacco said. “The fact that our team’s here sitting at 6-3, our whole unit is confident, and I think that always rubs off on people. He’s feeling good, he’s feeling like he’s in the groove, so I think that’s all he has to worry about.
“I don’t think he’s thinking about past New England games.”
Wilson was drafted to win games like this one day. If one day arrives on Sunday, the Jets will be in first place atop the AFC East.
“This is a big divisional game for us, obviously … not necessarily to feel like I gotta prove anything of ‘Last game didn’t go great, I gotta do something different this time,’ ” Wilson said. “Just the progress of we won a big game last week and it’s on to the next, and this is our next challenge. These guys are a great team, they do a great job defensively, so I am looking at it that way.
“I’m just super-excited for this game.”
A long-suffering fan base turns its lonely eyes to you Zach Wilson: Beat Bill Belichick.