Jets return to Zach Wilson with familiar result
By KEN BELSON
The Dallas Cowboys throttled the New York Jets 30-10 on Sunday afternoon, reminding the visitors from New York — as if any reminders were needed — of what the rest of their season may look like without quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
Rodgers lasted just three official plays in the Jets’ season opener last week before he tore his left Achilles tendon. The Jets (1-1) managed to pull off a 22-16 victory in overtime against the Buffalo Bills thanks to their tremendous defense and pounding run game.
The Jets’ defense did its part Sunday in Arlington, Texas, too, stopping the Cowboys (2-0) several times in the red zone and forcing Dallas to settle for field goals on five drives. But Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott wore down the defense with short passes to neutralize the Jets’ talented defensive backs. He connected with wide receiver CeeDee Lamb 11 times for 143 yards. Running back Tony Pollard caught another seven passes for 37 yards and rushed for 72 yards on 25 carries.
In all, Prescott completed 31 of 38 attempts for 255 yards and two touchdowns — thrown to tight ends Jake Ferguson and Luke Schoonmaker.
The Cowboys had the ball for more than 42 minutes, ran 83 plays and converted 9 of 18 third-down chances, leaving the Jets’ offense little chance to get going.
“Defensively, we just couldn’t get off the field,” Jets coach Robert Saleh said. “You can’t get anything going if you don’t have the ball that much.”
Rodgers’ replacement, Zach Wilson, the second overall pick in the 2021 draft, picked up where he left off last season. Under pressure all game from Dallas’ fearsome front four, Wilson was sacked three times and threw three fourth-quarter interceptions, as the Jets tried to nip away at a scoring deficit. Wilson finished with 170 yards on 12-of-27 passing, leading the team with 36 yards rushing. He was hounded throughout the game by Cowboys linebacker Micah Parsons, who had four quarterback hits, including two sacks.
Wilson’s few bright moments came early and with the assistance of his teammates. Dallas took an early lead on Prescott’s first-quarter touchdown pass to Ferguson, and added 3 points on Brandon Aubrey’s 35-yard field goal. Midway through the second quarter, Wilson opened a drive from the Jets’ 32-yard line by finding Garrett Wilson, the 2022 offensive rookie of the year, on a play-action pass. The receiver broke free of a tackle and sprinted 68 yards into the end zone to narrow the score to 10-7.
Dallas followed with a scoring drive of their own, punctuating a 75-yard series with a 1-yard touchdown strike to Schoonmaker.
With 12 seconds remaining before halftime and the Jets having driven to the Cowboys’ 16-yard line, Zach Wilson almost threw a second touchdown pass to Garrett Wilson, who was wide open in the end zone, but the ball was tipped by a Dallas defender and skidded well short of its mark. The Jets settled for a field goal to make the score 18-10.
“It was so frustrating,” Zach Wilson said. “I was going to rip it to him at the front pylon.”
Ultimately, the Cowboys returned to the formula that helped them upend the New York Giants 40-0 last week in New Jersey. Prescott got rid of the ball quickly, and Pollard, who became the team’s top running back last season, kept the Jets from locking in on the pass rush.
Parsons also stripped running back Dalvin Cook of the ball on the Jets’ second drive of the third quarter, short-circuiting their attempt to close a scoring gap that had ballooned to 21-10.
Playing from behind and under pressure, Zach Wilson threw interceptions on the Jets’ final three possessions. The first of them, early in the fourth quarter, was picked off by Cowboys safety Jayron Kearse, who returned the ball 32 yards to the Jets’ 17-yard line. The Cowboys added a field goal to push their lead to 30-10.
The final two interceptions were nabbed after the Jets approached midfield and the Dallas secondary sat back on Wilson’s throws. The matchup, like much of the Jets’ schedule before Rodgers’ injury, had been an interesting measuring stick for a team with newfound postseason hopes.
Saleh said he didn’t think Sunday’s loss was the start of a long slide for the Jets, who have home games against division-rival New England Patriots and the Kansas City Chiefs in the coming weeks.
“It won’t snowball, it’s not going to snowball,” he said. “That’s a really good football team. They played as good as I feel you could.”
Unfortunately for Jets fans and the television networks, the Jets, who were hyped on HBO’s “Hard Knocks” during the summer, might continue to struggle as they look for an offensive formula that works without Rodgers, the Hall of Fame-caliber quarterback they expected to lead them this season.