Jets beat Jaguars as Zach Wilson gets signature moment

For a meaningless game, Jets-Jaguars was pretty entertaining. 

The game Sunday featured a 102-yard kickoff return, a 52-yard touchdown run by Jets quarterback Zach Wilson and two touchdowns by offensive linemen. 

The Jets prevailed 26-21 in this meeting between NFL cellar-dwellers at MetLife Stadium. The game might only be remembered for its effect on next April’s NFL draft. The Jets are now 4-11, meaning they are highly unlikely to get one of the top two picks. The Jaguars are 2-13 and in position to draft No. 1 overall. 

Both teams had COVID-19 issues. The Jets had 20 players on the list, including defensive lineman Quinnen Williams, who landed on the list Sunday morning. They were missing five starters on defense and had two safeties making their first starts of the season. 

Jets coach Robert Saleh also was missing after testing positive for COVID on Wednesday. Saleh had to watch the game on TV while tight ends coach Ron Middleton served as acting head coach. Middleton showed no fear as he went for it on fourth down five times, including three times in the red zone. 

The matchup between the quarterbacks taken No. 1 and No. 2 overall in this year’s draft was nothing special. The highlight of Wilson’s day was the 52-yard touchdown run. He ran for 91 yards on four carries and threw for just 102 yards on 14 of 22 passing. He also threw for a touchdown to offensive lineman Conor McDermott that gave the Jets a 23-15 lead in the fourth quarter. Wilson did not throw any interceptions but had four passes that the Jaguars nearly picked. 

Jets quarterback Zach Wilson celebrates with wide receiver Braxton Berrios after running the ball for a touchdown.
Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

Lawrence went 26 of 39 for 280 yards and had a fumble. 

The Jaguars went 75 yards in the fourth quarter on eight plays after McDermott’s touchdown to make it interesting. Jaguars running back Dare Ogunbowale scored a 1-yard touchdown after a C.J. Mosley pass interference penalty put Jacksonville on the 1. The touchdown made it 23-21. The Jaguars attempted the two-point conversion to tie, but the Jets had great coverage and Lawrence had to throw it away, keeping the Jets on top. 

Jacksonville mounted one last drive, getting down to the Jets’ 1-yard line with eight seconds left but the Jets turned the Jaguars away at the goal line to secure the win. Lawrence completed six passes on the final drive, but his final pass to Marvin Jones fell incomplete with Javelin Guidry defending. 

The first half featured a number of entertaining plays. 

The Jaguars won the coin toss and elected to receive, possibly hoping to take advantage of the depleted Jets defense. The defense actually stopped the Jaguars on their first three plays, setting up a fourth down. But the Jaguars executed a fake punt and kept the drive going. Pass interference on rookie cornerback Brandin Echols set the Jaguars up inside the 10, but the defense held firm and the Jaguars had to kick a field goal. 

Jaguars receiver Laquon Treadwell fails to haul in a pass under double coverage during the first quarter of a game against the Jets on Dec. 26, 2021 at MetLife Stadium.
Jaguars receiver Laquon Treadwell fails to haul in a pass under double coverage.
Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

Wilson then showed his running ability to give the Jets the lead. On third-and-5 from his own 48, Wilson avoided a sack and took off. He danced along the sidelines, fooling Jaguars defenders into thinking he was running out of bounds and then showed his speed on the way to a 52-yard touchdown. It was the longest rushing touchdown by a quarterback in franchise history, surpassing the 46-yard run by Sam Darnold last year against the Broncos. 

The Jaguars answered with a 12-play, 75-yard drive that ended with Lawrence fumbling on the goal line after getting hit by safety Jason Pinnock. But Jaguars lineman Will Richardson Jr. jumped on the loose ball in the end zone for the touchdown and a 9-6 Jaguars lead. 

Braxton Berrios kept the back-and-forth first half going with a 102-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, the first of his career and the Jets were back on top 13-9. 

Matthew Wright hit a 45-yard field goal with 8:15 left in the first half to cut the Jets lead to 13-12. 

Jets acting head coach Ron Middleton reacts on the sideline during the first quarter of a game against the Jaguars on Dec. 26, 2021.
Jets acting head coach Ron Middleton reacts on the sideline.
Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

Middleton was aggressive and went for it on fourth down three times on the final drive of the half. The first two times the Jets converted but they failed to score from the Jaguars 2 on fourth down when Denzel Mims could not pull in Wilson’s pass in the back of the end zone. 

The teams traded field goals in the third quarter to make the Jets’ lead 16-15. The Jets could have extended that lead, but a fake field goal did not work and the Jets came away with no points after they recovered a Lawrence fumble deep in Jaguars territory. 

Middleton kept the foot on the gas, though, and in the fourth quarter Wilson hit McDermott for a touchdown on fourth-and-goal from the 1 to give the Jets a 23-15 lead with 9:16 left in the game. 

Rookie running back Michael Carter had a big day, rushing for a career-high 118 yards on 16 carries.