Eli Manning wants the New York Jets to let Zach Wilson go, but not in the way you think.
He said Monday during ESPN’s “ManningCast” broadcast of the Jets’ game against the Los Angeles Chargers that Wilson needs more freedom to take risks.
“He’s playing not to make mistakes,” Manning said during the Jets’ first offensive drive. “I think they’ve got to let him go a little bit.”
Manning drew that conclusion after discussing Wilson’s unusual start to the season with his brother and co-host Peyton. They noted that Wilson, a former BYU quarterback, expected to be on the bench behind legendary quarterback Aaron Rodgers, but then Rodgers tore his Achilles during the first few minutes of the first Jets game of the season.
Wilson was thrust back into the starting lineup and asked to play it safe and do everything he can to avoid turning the ball over, Eli Manning said, noting that he spoke to Wilson about the situation ahead of Monday’s game.
“He’s being told, ‘Hey, don’t make a mistake,’” Manning said. “Because of that, he’s rushing through some decisions.”
Before Rodgers’ injury, the Jets’ offensive game plan was much more flexible, Manning noted. Rodgers had the freedom to change plays at the line of scrimmage, but Wilson has been asked to run the play as called.
The scrutiny Wilson is facing from his coaches pairs poorly with the intense pressure he’s facing from NFL commentators and fans.
As Wilson struggled earlier this season, one former NFL player and current game analyst went so far as to describe the quarterback as “garbage,” as the Deseret News previously reported.
After that comment was made on Oct. 1, Wilson led the Jets to three straight victories, including one against the previously undefeated Philadelphia Eagles.
“I’m having tons of fun, especially when we pull out a big win like that,” Wilson said after the Jets-Eagles game on Oct. 15, as the Deseret News previously reported.
On Monday against the Chargers, Wilson seemed to be having less fun as his offense struggled to get anything going.
The Jets went three-and-out on their first offensive possession, and then receiver Garrett Wilson fumbled to end the second drive. During the Jets’ third offensive possession, Zach Wilson lost the ball while being sacked and the Chargers recovered it.
The Jets finally got on the board with a field goal during their sixth offensive drive, but were trailing 17-3 by halftime.
During the ESPN halftime show, Ryan Clark, a former Pittsburgh Steelers safety and current NFL analyst echoed Eli Manning’s comments on Wilson, arguing that the whole team would benefit from Wilson letting go.
“He needs to play free,” Clark said.
But in the second half, things went from bad to worse for Wilson and the Jets offense.
The Jets started the second half with a promising drive, which included a 31-yard pass from Wilson to Garrett Wilson. But then Zach Wilson was sacked twice in a row with fewer than 20 yards to go to the end zone, and the Jets had to settle for a field goal.
Something similar happened during the Jets’ next possession. Wilson was sacked at the Chargers’ 37-yard line, which put his team out of field-goal range.
Almost unbelievably, Wilson was sacked yet again midway through the fourth quarter to end the Jets’ third drive of the second half.
The game went even further south for the Jets with fewer than four minutes left to play. A Chargers defender knocked the ball out of Wilson’s hand as he was going through his throwing motion, forcing a fumble. The ball was recovered by a Charger and nearly returned for a touchdown. Los Angeles scored on the next play.
The Jets had a chance to score a touchdown in the final seconds of the game, but tight end C.J. Uzomah dropped Wilson’s pass.
Wilson was sacked eight times in the game. The Chargers won 27-6.