WEEK 12 CRYSTAL BALL - WEEKEND
Patience is a virtue, especially when working with young quarterbacks
My friends, THE GURU doesn’t think it’s time to give up on a certain Polynesian quarterback in the AFC East. He is young, talented, and may have a bright football future.
Yes, I’m talking about Zach Wilson of the New York Jets, a second-year man with Hawaiian roots on his father’s side.
Wilson’s middle name - Kapono - actually means “righteous” in Hawaiian, but the Jets quarterback has been viewed as anything but virtuous of late. After a 10-3 loss to New England last Sunday, he took the podium and, when asked if he felt the offense let the defense down, his answer was a simple “No…no.”
It was a brief statement by a 23-year-old kid who’d just suffered a brutal loss but, judging by the swift reaction from the gridiron community, Wilson committed an unforgivable football sin. Pundits from Chris Long to Richard Sherman to Stephen A. Smith took the former Brigham Young quarterback to task and New York head coach Robert Saleh then dropped the hammer by making Wilson his third-string QB for this week’s game at Chicago, behind Mike White (1st) and Joe Flacco (2nd).
The benching capped a sharp turn of events for the 2020 co-winner of the Polynesian College Football Player of the Year Award, picked second overall by the Jets in the 2021 NFL Draft. But Wilson said the news from Saleh didn’t come as a shock.
"You know what? I wouldn't say [I was] necessarily surprised because I haven't been doing my job," he said. "Of course, I would like to not agree with the decision and everything, but it comes down to I have to play better."
It was an important statement from Wilson, taking accountability for his actions, and he also earned street cred with his teammates by apologizing to them this week. One of the Jets’ team leaders, defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins, said it well.
“I think it speaks to the type of man and teammate Zach truly is, and that you can’t look at his one moment of frustration and saying what he said and think that depicts who he is as a man, as a brother, as a teammate. It meant a lot for him to do that, because he didn’t have to.
“But for him to stand up in front of his brothers, his teammates and to break it down to us and let us know where he was coming from, it means a lot going forward and we’ve got his back.’’
Indeed, with a mere 20 starts under his belt, this young man has a long way to go before the sun sets on his career.
My take on Wilson is simple: sitting him down makes sense but giving up on him does not. Why give him time? Well, for openers, he has a 5-2 record (.714) as a starter and, just as importantly, he’s a talented player who is just 23 years old.
If you want more evidence for being patient, take a look at some of Wilson’s NFL quarterbacking brethren. Chicago’s Justin Fields, the New York Giants’ Daniel Jones, and Miami’s Tua Tagovailoa, to name a few.
Go to Google, type in “Justin Fields” and “bust” and see all the negative things folks have written about this kid. Then do the same for Tagovailoa and Jones. It makes me shake my head and, I’ll tell you, it isn’t easy to move a melon of this size without a good deal of assistance.
As with Wilson, folks seem to forget how young these guys are. Fields is 23 years old, Tagovailoa is 24, and Jones is 25. They. Are. Babies.
Think about how (im)mature you were at 23, 24 or 25. I’m guessing you weren’t fully formed, just as these youthful quarterbacks are not.
Heck, I was a lad of 23 years when I moved to Manhattan to work as a journalist in 1993 and I can assure that I was not nearly as mature as Wilson is now. I was a goofy kid in a new town and probably less of an adult than THE TRE MAN is today. Simply put, I didn’t get it and I’m lucky my patient employer stuck with me and gave me a chance to make something of myself.
Yet, though we all know what it’s like to be young and foolhardy, we continue to place outsized expectations on young fellas like Wilson, who are playing the most mentally demanding position on the field. Let’s give him time, just as the Bears, Dolphins and Giants appear to be doing with their quarterbacks.
The electric Fields, with 21 career starts, is on pace to run for nearly 1,300 yards, topping Lamar Jackson’s 2019 QB record (1,206). Tagovailoa, 29 starts, leads the NFL in Total QBR for 7-3 Miami and Jones, pilot of the 7-4 Giants, is tenth, ahead of Justin Herbert (12th), Joe Burrow (14th) and Tom Brady (15th). The Duke product is also the “grizzled veteran” of the group with a whopping 48 starts.
Yet, at this time a year ago - or even earlier this season - it wouldn’t have been hard to find journalists and fans suggesting they should be cast aside, just as many are saying Wilson should be shown the door. This tendency of ours to quickly and eagerly deem a player a failure, a bust, is one of my all-time sports pet peeves.
The best case for patience among this group is Jones, the New York Giants fourth-year quarterback. He’s settled in this year and led the Giants to seven wins, already their winningest season since 2016. Think about that for a moment.
Looking under the hood a bit, Jones has done a remarkable job of cutting turnovers and, thus, keeping his team in games. To wit: after losing 17 fumbles in 27 games over 2019-20, an average of 0.63 per game, he’s lost only five fumbles in 22 games between the 2021-22 seasons, an average of 0.23. And he’s cut his interceptions in half over the same period, tossing just 11 picks over the past two seasons.
That, my friends, is progress and, it should be noted, Jones has done it in the New York fishbowl. And there’s no reason Wilson can’t accomplish the same.
If you’re looking for accomplishments, my predictions are usually the last place to look but this visually challenged squirrel did find a nut Thursday with a 3-0 record. That puts the season mark at 99-68 (.593).
Let’s take a look at this week’s remaining games with no one on the bye and plenty of pertinent info at the ready — the full schedule, including TV listings and broadcaster pairings; team standings; and team and individual statistics. And injury reports, too.
Here we go.
1 PM ET
Tampa (5-5) wins at Cleveland (3-7). The Bucs seem to be hitting their stride while the Browns seem to be doing just enough to lose with five of their seven defeats by one score…
…Denver (3-7) falls at Carolina (3-8). I like the fight the Panthers are showing under Steve Wilks, who is 2-4 with one of the losses in overtime. I’d guess he won’t receive the full-time job but, heck, he sure deserves a look. Take the hosts in a tight one with Mr. Sam Darnold at QB…
…Atlanta (5-6) at Washington (6-5). My Commanders are in the midst of a 5-1 stretch with the lone blemish a home loss to Minnesota when my boys led by 10 points in the fourth quarter. At first glance, beating the Falcons may seem like a given but there’s no such thing in DC football, I can assure you. Expect a hard-fought battle with the Commies defensive line making the difference late. Washington, 20-17…
…the host Jets (6-4) take down Chicago (3-8) with Justin Fields a game-time decision. Mike White may or may not be the QB answer in New York, but he is surely capable…
…Cincinnati (6-4) loses at Tennessee (7-3). Mike Vrabel thrives down the stretch and the Bengals are without Joe Mixon and, perhaps, sans Ja’Marr Chase too. That makes it awfully tough on Burrow & Co…
…Baltimore (7-3) routs Jacksonville (3-7) in the Sunshine State. The Jags are on the come but it’ll be a rough afternoon…
…Houston (1-8-1) at Miami (7-3). This feels like a trap game, but Miami is as creative as Don Draper and as explosive as a 7-Eleven burrito. Dolphins get the win.
4 PM(ish) ET
Las Vegas (3-7) loses at Seattle (6-4). I see David Carr having a big day but, in the end, I think the home team prevails….
…the LA Chargers (5-5) get a win at Arizona (4-7). The media focus is on the return of Arizona QB Kyler Murray and wideout Hollywood Brown, but the Cardinals defense may be the bigger story, allowing 27 points per game, tied for 30th in the league. Wait until they meet Justin Herbert…
…San Fran (6-4) takes down visiting New Orleans (4-7). The Niners are on a roll and will be hard to stop down the stretch…
…Kansas City (8-2) beats the Rams (3-7) at Arrowhead. This game screams “rout” but don’t be surprised if it is closer than we think: eight of Kansas City’s games have been decided by 10 points or less. Andy Reid, by the way, is now 119-51 (.700), including the playoffs, as Chiefs head coach.
8:20 PM ET
It’s hard to see Green Bay (4-7) winning at Philadelphia (9-1), even though the Eagles have struggled for two weeks straight. These teams are moving in opposite directions. Birds by seven.
MONDAY, 8:15 PM ET
Pittsburgh (3-7) falls at Indianapolis (4-6-1). The Steelers have a future Hall of Fame coach in Mike Tomlin, but Indy is playing true to its identity under Jeff Saturday and that bodes well for the home team. Saturday, by the way, is going to get the full-time job. You can book it.
That’s it for this week, folks. God bless!