The good news of sorts for Jets fans — ’tis the season, right? — is that the opposing quarterback on Sunday, fella named Trevor Lawrence, hasn’t exactly lit it up during a rookie season when he couldn’t know for certain whether his head coach would make the team flight home from a road game or get his kicks in other misguided ways.
Tanking for Trevor was a thing a year ago, and of course the Jets couldn’t get it right enough to land everybody’s next generational quarterback prospect, which led them (general manager Joe Douglas, head coach Robert Saleh) to fall in love with one Zach Wilson.
Wilson hasn’t exactly lit it up either during a season when he heard MetLife Stadium chant “Mike White, Mike White, Mike White” and with Saleh forced to become his virtual head coach this week because of COVID-19.
Perhaps one far away day — Playoffs? Playoffs? PLAYOFFS? — Trevor versus Zach will be the kind of rivalry that Eli Manning versus Ben Roethlisberger grew into … Big Ben being the quarterback Ernie Accorsi would have drafted if he couldn’t have made that blockbuster trade on draft day with the Chargers for Eli Manning.
Manning had been the No. 1-overall pick and Big Ben the No. 11 pick, and even though they never met in the Super Bowl, each has two rings.
Trevor versus Zach on the day after Christmas is hardly that type of heavyweight showdown. But when you are left with 2-12 Jaguars versus 3-11 Jets, it is the game within the game that becomes the marquee attraction.
Zach versus Mac Jones will be the most compelling rivalry because those are Bill Belichick and the Patriots intent on continuing their torment of the Jets.
But Trevor versus Zach — best-case scenario — will have a puncher’s chance to be the very best rivalry between quarterbacks drafted 1-2 … if Zach holds up his end of the bargain and blossoms into who and what the Jets believe he will become.
Better than Jim Plunkett-Archie Manning (1971).
Better than Drew Bledsoe-Rick Mirer (1993).
Better than Tim Couch-Donovan McNabb (1999).
Better than Andrew Luck-RGIII (2012).
Better than Jameis Winston-Marcus Mariota (2015).
And if it isn’t any better than Peyton Manning versus Ryan Leaf (1998), that would be the absolute worst-case scenario for the Jets and their faithful.
Because few are afraid to mention the young Trevor in the same breath as the young Peyton. Like Peyton, Trevor has been The Chosen One from before he even entered high school.
“It’s tough to obviously come from nothing in my situation, but I think it’s almost harder to come from a situation where no matter where you’ve been, people have labeled you as the best,” Zach said. “He’s done an amazing job of not listening to the noise, and the expectation’s never gotten too high for him, and he just handled his own business. Obviously I knew who he was for a long time. I’m sure he probably didn’t know who I was, but that’s part of it.”
Of course Trevor knows who he is now.
“It’s not like me against him,” Zach said. “We can both have success. Yes, do I want our team to beat the Jaguars? Yeah, I do. I hope to go out there and play well. But I don’t look at it as me versus Trevor or my stats versus Trevor. … It’s not like we’re fighting for a starting position on the same team. We can cheer each other on which is really cool.”
Trevor (9 TDs, 14 INTs) has thrown one touchdown pass across his past seven games. And it bothers him.
“I look at that and I hate seeing that just because that means we’re not scoring a lot of points,” he said on Wednesday. “It’d be different if we were scoring points still in the run game or whatever it is. If we’re still able to win games, that’s fine. That’s my job is to try to win games. But when you see that and you’re not scoring points, those kind of go hand in hand. It’s disappointing and it’s something that we’re definitely trying to work on. We need to be more productive. … We have to do it and that starts with me.”
Zach (6 TDs, 11 INTs) has not thrown an interception in his past two games.
“I think it’s just an understanding of the offense. Understanding how important it is to take care of the ball … just better decisions,” Zach said.
And playing more freely within the structure of offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur’s offense.
“Trust your instinct,” Zach said.
With all the chaos that has swirled around Trevor and Zach, it is encouraging that neither has flinched. Zach won’t have WRs Corey Davis and Elijah Moore on Sunday and LT Mekhi Becton seems like a distant memory and LG Alijah Vera-Tucker (not to mention Saleh) are on the COVID list. LaFleur mentioned the absence of continuity that Zach has endured and said: “It hasn’t bothered him at all.”
Trevor and Zach got a better feel for each other at combine training.
“He’s a great dude,” Zach said. “Just a cool guy to be around. It’s going to be a fun matchup just because we’re going to be playing in the league from the start of the same time for hopefully a long time, so it’s going to be cool just to follow his career and to be able to match up against those guys. I just hope he does well, and I always hope the best for him.”