PITTSBURGH — Quarterback Zach Wilson’s season debut included a historic touchdown catch, a two-quarter fall that nearly doomed the New York Jets and the biggest fourth-quarter comeback of his young career.
“It was an ugly win, but it was one of the most fun I’ve had playing football,” Wilson said Sunday after a 24-20 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers at Acrisure Stadium.
It was a wild game.
The Jets led by 10 points in the first quarter and trailed by 10 in the fourth, but Wilson rallied them with touchdowns for 81 and 65 yards on their final two possessions to earn their second win from behind on the road. Wilson returned to huddle after a preseason knee injury that required arthroscopic surgery on Aug. 16. With just three days of full practice, he was predictably rusty (18 for 36, 252 yards, two interceptions), but he made several clutch throws in the fourth quarter. Sunday’s game was the first time since 1988 that the Jets led by 10 points, trailed by 10 and won the game, according to Elias Sports Bureau research.
Wilson was nearly flawless in the fourth, completing 10 of 12 passes for 128 yards and a touchdown — a 5-yard rush to wide receiver Corey Davis with 7:31 remaining.
“The young man doesn’t flinch,” coach Robert Saleh said.
Wilson, drafted second overall in 2021, showed tenacity and resilience in the final minutes. He’s completed his last seven passes, including 5-on-5 for 57 yards on the final drive. The Jets took over on Michael Carter II’s interception with 3:34 remaining and marched to Breece Hall’s 2-yard touchdown with 16 seconds left.
Wilson said he didn’t think about his surgically repaired knee during the game. He was under heavy duress by a makeshift line. He’s only been sacked once, but he’s been hit six times and pressured 14 times, according to NFL Next Gen Stats.
“I thought it was probably the most comfortable I’ve ever felt from a pre-game perspective before a game,” said Wilson, who went 3-10 as a starter during a tough rookie year.
Wilson proved he could catch a pass. In the second quarter, he scored on the Jets’ version of the “Philly Special,” a dazzling play in which he handed it to wide receiver Garrett Wilson, who threw it to receiver Braxton Berrios, who threw a pass from 2 yards. to a wide-open Wilson.
He became the first quarterback in Jets history to score a touchdown reception and the first to catch a pass since Geno Smith in 2013. Wilson celebrated with a “Griddy” dance in the end zone.
“It’s pretty cool,” he said of his touchdown, joking, “I have the best hands on the team.”
The Jets looked in control with a 10-0 lead, but Wilson threw two interceptions (one from tight end Tyler Conklin) as the Jets squandered chances to put the game away. Wilsons said “there was frustration, but it was the right frustration”. The defense made four interceptions, including two by safety Lamarcus Joyner, to keep the Jets in the game. It gave Wilson two big possessions at the end.
“He never stopped. He never turned it off. You can tell he just believes in himself. He may not have played a perfect game, but it was his first game and everything,” Hall said of Wilson.
Wilson, showing no ill effects from his knee surgery, escaped a handful of sacks thanks to his mobility. He said he was “in a good position” with his knee, thanking the coaching staff for preparing him. He was on the run because his offensive line suffered another key injury, as rookie right tackle Max Mitchell (knee) was knocked out in the second quarter — the Jets’ fourth tackle to be injured since training camp.
The day started with a surprise move, with right guard Alijah Vera-Tucker starting at left tackle. At halftime, only two of the five Week 1 starters were in their original positions – center Connor McGovern and left guard Laken Tomlinson. Led by Wilson, the Jets (2-2) overcame a lot of adversity.
“I think he played a good game for his first game back,” Saleh said.
The Steelers (1-3) had a hard time swallowing. Said safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, “It’s very frustrating. It’s frustrating to lose to people you know are better than, more talented than.”