FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — New York Jets quarterback Zach Wilson was sacked four times in a 24-hour span — three times by the New England Patriots on Sunday and once the next day by Joe Namath, the most iconic player in franchise history.
Commenting for the first time on Namath’s scathing criticism, the embattled Wilson insisted he wasn’t upset by the comments.
“I mean, he’s passionate,” Wilson said Thursday, smiling. “He’s obviously one of the greats, so as an offense we’ve got to do everything we can to try to prove him wrong.”
Namath, 80, fed up with Wilson’s struggles, blasted the former first-round pick on “The Michael Kay Show” on ESPN New York radio. He said Wilson’s performance was “disgusting” and that he’s “seen enough of Zach Wilson,” predicting the third-year quarterback never will develop into a good player.
Wilson, thrust into the lineup when Aaron Rodgers went down with a season-ending Achilles injury on the fourth play in Week 1, has struggled mightily. His QBR is a career-low 26.7, which ranks 33rd out of 34 qualified passers. The only quarterback below him is the Chicago Bears‘ Justin Fields (21.0).
The Jets’ organization was hit hard by Namath’s remarks, but most coaches and players were careful not to fire back. Namath, who led the Jets to their only Super Bowl in 1969, still is revered by the franchise. No one wanted to start a war of words with the Hall of Fame quarterback.
Wilson, who showed up for his news conference wearing a T-shirt that read, “I Got Your Back” (recently distributed to every player), downplayed the criticism.
“Obviously, Joe was an unbelievable player, but this locker room is very tight knit and we’re working to get better,” said Wilson, who has met Namath only once — a training-camp visit in 2021.
Offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett, presiding over a unit that has scored only three touchdowns in three games, echoed Wilson’s sentiment, saying, “Joe Namath was a great, great football player. He has every right to his opinion, and we have every right to prove him wrong.”
Tight end Tyler Conklin, defending Wilson, said Namath went too far.
“I don’t like it because that’s my teammate,” Conklin told ESPN. “I don’t like it. It’s harsh to say that.
“I do understand the aspect of caring for the organization and wanting us to be successful and him being one of the greatest Jets. I do understand all those things. You’ve got to go out there and put a good product on the field — and we do need to do that for the fans and for the alumni and for all those people that need us to do that — but I did think it was harsh. I think a lot of people could agree with that.”
Wilson is under immense pressure as he prepares to face Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs (2-1) on Sunday night at MetLife Stadium. This was supposed to be a learning year for the former No. 2 overall pick, a chance to watch Rodgers and stay out of the spotlight after a 2022 season in which he was benched twice.
The plans changed on the first series of the first game. In two-plus games, Wilson has completed only 52.4% of his passes for 467 yards, with two touchdowns and four interceptions. He was booed lustily during the 15-10 loss to the Patriots.
Coach Robert Saleh has backed Wilson as his starter, but this week’s addition of Trevor Siemian provides an option if the offense continues to sputter. But it probably will take Siemian, a former starter with the Denver Broncos, a few weeks to get up to speed with the playbook.
Wilson is getting dumped on from seemingly everybody. Chiefs linebacker Willie Gay, speaking to reporters Wednesday, gave a long pause and laughed when asked about Wilson and the offense.
“Damn, that was a hard question, I can lie,” he said. “[They’re] a team that wants to run the ball. … A-Rod got hurt, and they turned into a team in panic mode almost.”
Wilson dismissed the comments. Hackett said, I mean, if you take our body of work these past three games, it hasn’t been pretty. That’s facts. Anybody that questions us, we have the right to prove everybody wrong.” Usually buttoned-up in front of the media, Wilson doesn’t give much self-reflection, but acknowledged his time in New York hasn’t gone as planned.
The intense scrutiny “is exactly what I expected,” he said, “but I would hope that things could’ve gone better. I understand the frustration with the outside, and I get it because it hasn’t been as good as I’ve wanted. All I can do is just progressively keep trying to work to improve and get better.”