Zach Wilson 16-game audition begins Sunday vs. Cowboys

We’ve all heard the expression, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.”

The first impression Zach Wilson made on Jets fans wasn’t a good one. But he is getting a second chance to prove the doubters wrong.

Sunday is the start of a new beginning for the No. 2 overall pick in the 2021 NFL draft and a chance to change his narrative. Wilson became the Jets starting quarterback again after Aaron Rodgers tore his Achilles during Monday night’s 22-16 OT victory against the Bills just four plays into the game.

During the second quarter, Wilson looked like the player Jets fans grew to detest late last season as he completed 5 of 8 passes for 41 yards and an interception as he and the team were booed off the field at halftime. But unlike last year, Wilson regained his confidence and was efficient in the second half, completing 9 of 13 passes for 99 yards and a key touchdown pass to Garrett Wilson.

“A lot of confidence, man,” Wilson said about himself. “I truly believe in myself, and I think that’s the first step to being in the NFL. You have to believe in yourself first, and the rest can take care of itself.

“I just have to go out there and do what I have to do. Help this team as much as I can, do my part, understand that I’m one of 11 on that offense. We have a lot of playmakers, so I’m excited to be out there with those guys, I’m excited about the group that we have, everyone’s very optimistic, so my job is to let those guys make plays.”

Wilson’s first two years in the NFL were like a bad amusement park ride with lots of high-speed drops as the former BYU star dealt with injuries and poor play.

Everything came to a head following the Jets’ embarrassing 10-3 loss to the Patriots last November. Wilson failed to take accountability for the team’s abysmal offensive showing when asked if he let his defense down following a 9 for 22 passing performance (40.9%) for 77 yards.

“No,” Wilson said. “No.”

Wilson eventually apologized in an attempt to win back his teammate’s trust, but the damage was done. Not only did Wilson lose his starting job to backup Mike White, but he also lost his teammates’ respect as they promptly wore “Mike Effing White” T-shirts. Wilson did start again but was benched for the final two games of last season as the Jets slumped to a 7-10 campaign.

There was a time when many weren’t even sure if Wilson would be on the Jets roster in 2023. But not only were Robert Saleh and the Jets committed to Wilson as the team’s backup quarterback, but they still considered him part of their future (at least those are the words externally from the organization).

During the offseason, the Jets brought in Nathaniel Hackett as the new offensive coordinator. That allowed Wilson to get back to basics, but they also worked on his footwork and presence inside and outside the pocket. He also shadowed Rodgers, learning what made him the future Hall of Fame quarterback that he is.

After he was selected in the ’21 draft, the Jets just handed Wilson the keys to the Ferrari, hoping the 21-year-old wouldn’t crash the car. But instead of bringing in a veteran who could help mold and push him to be his best on the field, Wilson was put in a position to fail.

Now, with a top-level defense and running backs like Dalvin Cook and Breece Hall, the Jets just need Wilson to take care of the football and allow the team to be in every game each Sunday.

“I’m very confident in Zach and I think he’s confident in himself, which is the most important thing,” Rodgers said during an appearance on “The Pat McAfee Show.” on Friday. “It was an important offseason for him and it was very important to get his confidence back to be able to work on some of the little fundamental things that I think he has seen show up in the preseason and obviously the other night on Monday.

“Truly, I was hoping he would have a couple of years to sit back and not have a lot of pressure on him and relax, but that’s how this life goes sometimes, it throws you some curveballs. Neither of us thought that curve was going to happen on Monday.

“I’m excited for him, he’s a great kid, love him, I’m pulling for him.”

Wilson’s first start this season will be against a Cowboys defense that held the Giants to 171 total yards in a 40-0 shutout on Sunday Night Football. During that outing, Dallas sacked Giants quarterback Daniel Jones seven times and forced two interceptions.

Mike Lupica: Finally time to figure out what the Jets have with Zach Wilson

Buffalo prepared for Rodgers at quarterback, not Wilson last weekend. Dallas understands Gang Green’s plan for attack will likely be to run the ball with Cook and Hall and pass when they have to.

Opportunity comes when you least expect it, and Wilson has 16 games to prove he can be a starting-caliber quarterback in the NFL.

“I think he’s a good quarterback,” Jets wide receiver Xavier Gipson told the Daily News.. “He’s a leader, he’s a different type of leader than Aaron Rodgers.

“I’m pretty sure Aaron Rodgers taught him a lot coming in. I believe he has made some great passes. I’ve caught a couple in the preseason, so I know what he can do.”

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