The A.F.C. playoff race only gets more and more contentious with each passing week, and teams are adjusting to make sure they can keep pace. To that end, the Jets reset the offense by sitting quarterback Zach Wilson and running back James Robinson. The Bengals and the Titans put their contrasting styles on display in another hard-fought matchup that is becoming one of the conference’s most underrated rivalries.
The Jets’ offense can work.
Coach Robert Saleh hasn’t gone so far as to say that the second-year quarterback Zach Wilson won’t return as the Jets’ starter, but the team’s 31-10 win over the Bears at home pointed out the glaring disconnect between Wilson and the offense’s potential.
On Sunday, Mike White completed 22 of 28 passes for 315 yards and three touchdowns, lacing throws to 10 different receivers while starting in place of Wilson, who was inactive for the game after a nightmare performance with just nine completions against the Patriots in Week 11.
When the Jets selected Wilson No. 2 overall out of Brigham Young University in 2021, the bill was that they were getting a semi-athletic, strong-armed scrambler who could go off script and make big plays down the field. He would be a player whose creativity and explosive plays could make up for inefficiency, à la Russell Wilson or Kyler Murray.
But despite the team adding tight end C.J. Uzomah and the rookie receiver Garrett Wilson in the off-season, Zach Wilson hasn’t yet consistently made the types of throws that keep drives alive long enough for firework plays to develop. He doesn’t work the quick game or check through his progressions and that’s made for a wonky fit in Mike LaFleur’s offense, which is built on timing and precision.
LaFleur, who previously worked under Kyle Shanahan, employs a scheme built on play-action calls and throws targeting the middle of the field, similar to those run by accurate quarterbacks like Jimmy Garoppolo and Tua Tagovailoa.
On Sunday, White highlighted what is supposed to work for the Jets. The team’s first drive featured five short completions before White found Garrett Wilson on a short corner route in the end zone for an 8-yard score that helped put the Jets up by 7-0.
White’s second touchdown, also to Wilson, showcased the big-play potential of the Jets’ personnel. On a first-and-10 near midfield late in the second quarter, the Jets stacked Denzel Mims and Wilson to the right side and had Mims run an over route to clear the middle of the field for Wilson. White reared back and delivered the ball to Wilson right over a linebacker. Wilson made a Bears defender miss, then zoomed to the end zone for a 54-yard score.
This is the second straight season in which White has made a star cameo for the Jets. White, selected in the fifth round by Dallas in 2018, stunned the league in the Jets’ upset win over the Bengals in his first career start last season. He threw four picks to a fierce Bills defense two weeks later. White’s big moment this season comes with a grain of salt: The Bears started a backup quarterback of their own, Trevor Siemian, and couldn’t generate a semblance of a pass rush.
Still, LaFleur called plays that got Jets open all over the field and swapped in the rookie running back Zonovan Knight (14 carries, 69 yards) for James Robinson, whom the Jets acquired from Jacksonville after Breece Hall was injured. With a bit of accuracy and balance, the Jets, for once, made winning look routine.
Around the N.F.L.
Bengals 20, Titans 16
Jets 31, Bears 10
Commanders 19, Falcons 13
Dolphins 30, Texans 15
Panthers 23, Broncos 10
Browns 23, Buccaneers 17 (overtime)
Jaguars 28, Ravens 27