Robert Saleh lauds Zach Wilson after Jets' loss: 'If he plays like that, we're gonna win a lot of football games'

This was supposed to be Aaron Rodgers dueling with Patrick Mahomes.

Instead, it was a given Mahomes and Travis Kelce would lead a one-sided win in front of Taylor Swift.

Zach Wilson changed the Sunday night script, though.

Wilson turned in perhaps the most impressive performance of his young career. Unfortunately, his New York Jets still fell to the reigning Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs, 23-20, and a Wilson fumble in the fourth quarter loomed large in the loss.

"I thought he was really good," Jets head coach Robert Saleh said. "Gave us a chance to win the game, brought us back. If he plays like that, we're gonna win a lot of football games."

Wilson finished the night 28 of 39, completing 71.8% of his passes, for 245 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions and a 105.2 rating. But it was more than the sturdy box score. He showed confidence, poise, solid decision-making and showcased a big arm and some tight-window accuracy at times.

There was the fumble, though. With 7:24 remaining in the ballgame, Wilson dropped a shotgun snap. The Chiefs recovered. Mahomes and Co., aided by a controversial defensive holding call against Sauce Gardner, ran out the clock, and Wilson never had a chance at redemption.

Though his overall game was lauded, it was that one play that Wilson cited as having lost the night.

"To be driving right there, to drop a snap, I cannot do that," said Wilson, who was visibly downtrodden in his postgame news conference. "I lost us that game, and I cannot do that. Was making it clear to those guys that I need to be better, I need to be better on the little things, the details. Can't happen."

Whether Wilson lost the Jets their third straight game is up for discussion, perhaps. That he kept them in it, rallied them from an early deficit and gave them a chance to win is not. Still, the 24-year-old shouldered the blame. The snap was low to the left at his hip. Not great, but he should've had it. 

"That's on me," Wilson said. "Critical situation, I can't have a play like that. I cannot drop the ball."

Saleh had a different take. 

"I haven't had a chance to talk to him yet, but I'm sure he's beating himself up over a play or two here or there, but he shouldn't," Saleh said. "There's nothing that he should be ashamed of."

That one play was largely the bad and the ugly. The good was apparent through the majority of the preceding three quarters and change. And there was the second-half opening drive that was simply great.

Down, 17-2, Wilson drove Jets 62 yards and looked to have made a dazzling throw to Tyler Conklin for a touchdown. Alas, the low throw was dropped by Conklin on a diving attempt. New York settled for a field goal.

"I threw that one low to Conklin," Wilson said. "That should've been a touchdown. Not ending in a field goal. It's the little things that win games, and if you want to be great, you have to have those. And I need to be better on those."

However, before the half, Wilson connected with C.J. Uzomah for a 1-yard score.

Heading out of the locker room trailing, 20-12, Wilson led the Jets on a seven-play, 75-yard odyssey that was a portrait of the former No. 2 overall pick at his very best.

He was 5 of 5, including two tight window completions for a +44.1% completion percentage over expected, per Next Gen Stats. He was cooking with gas and playing with confidence. The drive culminated with a 10-yard scoring hookup to Allen Lazard. A moment later, Wilson scrambled in for a diving two-point conversion. He was lifted up and into the air by a teammate. It was likely the Jets' finest moment since Week 1 after they rallied in the aftermath of Rodgers' tearing his Achilles.

Two punts and the aforementioned fumble followed, though.

"I felt like (offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett) did an unbelievable job today mixing it up and taking shots and spreading it around," Wilson said. "I thought he was keeping them on their toes. I thought we had a good plan, I thought I was seeing it really well. I would say we need to keep building on this, but I need to be better with the details."

New York sits at 1-3. That's the harsh reality of it all.

Still, Wilson was slinging it on Sunday. This isn't his first good game, but it was his first in a long time and at least temporarily rewarded Saleh's undying confidence in him.

Perhaps there was a silver lining for Gang Green. Perhaps not.

"You can always take positives out of any situation," Saleh said. "No moral victories, but would have liked to have seen if we could have pulled that one off on that last drive."

Nevertheless, Wilson definitely walked away having earned his opponents' respect, including his counterpart on Sunday, the reigning NFL Most Valuable Player.

Said Mahomes to Melissa Stark at the end of the NBC broadcast: "He played his ass off."

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