The mission statement to this season for the Jets was based on one thing: The development of Zach Wilson.
All the Jets wanted was to see progress from their rookie quarterback, the prized No. 2 overall draft pick, as they built their young roster around him for the future.
So, Wilson missing at least two and possibly four games because of the posterior cruciate ligament sprain in his right knee suffered in Sunday’s 54-13 loss in New England is a setback.
There isn’t any way around this — regardless of whether it’s spun this way or that: It’s a setback to both Wilson’s development and the Jets’ season.
You can, in fact, make an argument that it’s a double setback because of who Wilson’s backup is — Mike White, a 2018 fifth-round draft pick by Dallas who’d never thrown an NFL pass until he was forced into duty Sunday.
If the Jets had a veteran, mentor-like quarterback on the roster running the system (see: Josh McCown, Ryan Fitzpatrick), you could make the argument that sitting behind that player and observing for a few weeks might be good for Wilson.
But it’s difficult to make the argument that sitting behind White, a player who has less experience than he has, will be good for Wilson.
The Monday trade for veteran Joe Flacco for a conditional sixth-round draft pick makes you question why the Jets haven’t had a player like Flacco on their roster all season. The fact that they don’t want to elevate third-stringer Josh Johnson to the 53-man roster tells you all you need to know about how much they trust him in a game.
This move seems like too little too late considering the fact that Flacco is more insurance than someone who’s likely to start on Sunday with just days to learn the system.
In fairness, White represented himself admirably under difficult circumstances Sunday, not looking like a deer in the headlights against the Patriots. He ran the offense like someone who has a clue, not someone for whom the moment was too big.
But the dynamic for White changes now that he’s a starter for the next three or four weeks. Coming in as he did on Sunday, like part of a fire drill with no notice, can be easier sometimes because the player has no time to think or get nervous.
Beginning Sunday at MetLife Stadium against the 5-2 Bengals, whose defense has allowed the fifth-fewest points per game, it all changes for White, who now will need to function as an NFL starter.
As for Wilson, the time missed will hurt no matter which way you spin it.
“I don’t think it’s a setback,’’ Jets coach Robert Saleh said Monday. “I think it’s always good to be able to step away and just watch the offense through the lens of another quarterback. We’re still going to be able to develop as an offense. Zach will still be there learning it and just trying to absorb all the information as he can.
“If you want to look for a silver lining, when you can watch the same offense that you are running for the first six weeks, run through the lens of another quarterback and just to see how he operates within the same system I think there’s a lot to be had. You can learn a lot off what other people do.’’
The Jets can only hope.
“There’s nothing like playing,’’ Jets offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur said Monday. “That’s where you gain the most experience. That’s where you do learn the most, because the bullets are live. However, from a positive side to spin it … sometimes there is something strong in being able to sit back, not having the weight of the world on your shoulders, for him to just be able to let it be for however many weeks and learn and grow and watch someone else do it.’’
Wilson’s teammates offered support of their franchise quarterback, but they, too emphasized the importance of moving on and not moping about being without their leader.
“Listen, Zach is a fighter,’’ defensive lineman Foley Fatukasi said Monday. “He takes his job very seriously and has exhibited some extreme professionalism. He understands that the show doesn’t stop just because one person is hurt.’’
Running back Ty Johnson said “it sucks’’ to lose Wilson, but he insisted, “This is not the end of us. You feel for Zach … but the NFL doesn’t wait for anybody. No one else cares.’’
Cornerback Bryce Hall spoke of overcoming the adversity of Wilson being out.
“Hopefully our guy gets well,’’ Hall said. “By no means is this season done with and by no means does this mean we can’t recover and come back and be even stronger for it.’’
Whether the Jets and Wilson will be stronger for this setback remains to be see, but the odds are against it.
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