The New York Jets were literally inches from defeating Tom Brady and defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 17.
Unfortunately, the NFL tends to be relentless when you come up short, especially when Brady is standing on the opposite side of the football field, and Green & White did just that in a crucial decision to attempt to freeze the game on a fourth down. and two from the Bucs’ 7-yard line.
With a 24-20 Jets lead and the game on the line, rookie Zach Wilson sneakily attempted a quarterback instead of handing the ball to playmaker Braxton Berrios on a backhand. It was a strange play, to say the least, and both Robert Saleh and Wilson explained the game-changing save that led to their immediate deaths.
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Lack of communication in times of crisis
Coach Saleh was asked about the final offensive play several times during his postgame press conference. In the end, the location of the blame for the HC Jets was clear: It fell on the coaching staff, not the caller for the rookie.
“It was a setback for Berríos,” he began, “the quarterback has an option based on the appearance he has to strain the ball. In that situation, we wanted to have the ball delivered to Berríos, but we did a very bad job as a coaching staff communicating that in the group and Zach executed the playbook as designed … bad work on our part due to lack of communication “.
For those unfamiliar with the X’s and O’s from a soccer playbook, this call typically has two options for Wilson. One is the trade designed for wide receiver Berríos, who would cross the backfield in a back-and-forth run. The other is a quarterback in which Wilson pushes himself forward.
Normally, the quarterback would make that decision based on the defensive front and what they are showing, commonly known as a pre-attack reading. In this case, with such an important moment, Saleh’s point was that the coaching staff should have told Wilson that stealth was no longer an option from two yards.
Later Saleh reiterated: “Braxton is one of our best players and we wanted the ball in his hands, and we just didn’t communicate it the way we needed to across the board. [Wilson] He ran the playbook and in that situation we had to communicate with him, deliver this ball no matter what. “
The head coach added that it should have been a first try if it weren’t for the lack of communication and that “makes you sick.”
Considering the Jets took a timeout before this crucial moment, it’s almost overwhelming that such a simple mistake cost them victory. When asked who specifically this transmission of information falls on, Saleh did not mince words.
“That’s Mike [LaFleur] to Zach. It’s simple, he orders the play and says hand over this ball no matter what, and that’s all the communication that needs to be said. And it was never understood, so Zach ran the playbook as designed, ”he said.
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Wilson takes all the blame
Saleh could have put the monumental error on the coaching staff and his offensive coordinator in particular, but the rookie quarterback felt it was a collective mistake.
“I think everyone is being a bit hard on themselves about what happened. I think from an offensive perspective, we just have to make the play that we called. They are learning for the next time. If next time they really want it to happen, we will communicate it, but I think that when something does not work it is easy to say after the fact, “said Wilson, defending LaFleur.
“I did what I thought needed to be done right there,” the rookie added later. “The difficult thing here is that it is easy to say: I give it up and we get the first down. Let’s say it’s backwards, let’s say I handed that over and we got drunk, now everyone’s saying hey why didn’t you take the gap A open? It goes both ways. Unfortunately this is a very good defense that we are playing against and those guys do a great job early on and we just don’t run there. It’s part of the game, that’s why situations like fourth and two are so difficult … we will all learn from that and it’s part of that, but I think LaFleur did an amazing job today putting us in good situations. We understand it and nobody says anything. “
It could be argued that the BYU product played its best game of the season against Brady in what should have been a Jets win. Coming out of his best rating of the year in Pro Football Focus in Week 16, Wilson has been getting better and better down the stretch with most of his strongest playmakers sidelined.
It has been an impressive run for the rookie, who has had some help from an unlikely breakout candidate in Berríos. The quarterback’s new favorite weapon talked about the final play.
“I fully trust 2 [Wilson] in whatever he does and whatever decision he makes, ”replied the wide receiver. “If he makes that call, then I’ll follow through with that call.”
Berríos described the play as a “round trip,” which would support Saleh’s claim that LaFleur did not remove the option from the table. The speedy slot receiver finished with two touchdowns against the Bucs on 10 total offensive touches (77 total yards).
“I thought our guys were outstanding today, they deserved better,” Coach Saleh told the media. “We won that game and we have to be better for our players.”