The careers of Trevor Lawrence and Zach Wilson will forever be linked.
Now for the second time, their teams will square off against each other and this time it is a critical AFC matchup with a lot at stake.
The Jets will host the Jaguars on Thursday Night Football in front of a national audience at the Meadowlands. Jacksonville selected Lawrence with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft and Wilson was chosen a pick later by the Jets.
Last year, the Jets defeated the Jaguars 26-21 in a Week 15 matchup as Wilson set a Jets record for a quarterback with 91 yards rushing, which was highlighted by a 52-yard touchdown — the longest run by a QB in franchise history.
“I got to know him through the draft process and stuff, he’s really, truly a great dude, I love the way he carries himself, the way he handles himself,” Wilson said about Lawrence. “I haven’t followed him a ton, I think it seems like he’s been having a good year, he’s one of those dudes that’s never going to quit and he’s always going to kind of do what’s necessary to make sure he’s improving and getting better.
“I’ve got a lot of respect for him, so I’m sure I’ll probably see him on the field and say what’s up.”
After both quarterbacks had losing records in their rookie seasons, their second seasons could’ve gone any differently. Lawrence is showing why he was considered a quarterback prodigy coming out of Clemson. In 14 games, Lawrence has thrown for 3,520 yards, 24 touchdowns and seven interceptions.
“Trevor is the type of guy that things of that stuff bother him and he’s going to learn from it and move on,” Jaguars coach Doug Pederson said of his young QB.
“I think it’s just a credit to where we are as a football team right now, confidence that both sides and all three phases that offense and defense are playing with. If the offense turns the ball over, the defense is like, ‘Hey, we’ll either get a stop or get the ball back at some point.’
“Same way, if the defense allows a touchdown, the offense is like, ‘Hey, we got to go score.’ It’s the complementary aspect of the game, but for Trevor, as the leader, guys really like how he’s playing and how he’s leading, his toughness, and that goes a long way with the guys in the locker room.”
On the other hand, Wilson has had a mediocre sophomore campaign in the NFL. During the preseason, Wilson suffered a meniscus injury and he missed the first three games of the regular season. When he returned, Wilson displayed some of the same inconsistencies that plagued him during his rookie year.
Despite a 5-2 record, the Jets benched Wilson following their inept Week 11 loss to the Patriots as head coach Robert Saleh said they wanted to give the former BYU standout a chance to reset and work on his mechanics. Gang Green turned to Mike White instead and he went 1-2 in his starts, throwing for 952 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. But White suffered fractured ribs in the Week 14 loss to the Bills and has not been cleared for contact ever since.
That forced the Jets to turn back to Wilson last week. He had his good and bad moments against the Lions, finishing 18-of-35 for 317 yards, two touchdowns and one interception in a 20-17 loss. But Wilson reverted to some of the same technical and decision-making issues that got him benched in the first place.
Wilson has thrown for 1,596 yards, six TDs and six interceptions in eight games while completing 54.9% of his passes.
“We all thought he had a good week of practice,” Saleh said. “Really felt like he played a good game. He felt comfortable in practice. Looked like everything was going exactly how we wanted it to, and I thought it showed on Sunday, a lot of things showed on Sunday. He attacked it.
“He attacked the three weeks, just working with the scout team. I thought he’s been doing a really nice job since that New England game.”
Not only will Wilson have pressure to beat Lawrence and the Jaguars on national TV, but the Jets’ playoff fate is also at stake. With three games left to go, Gang Green is 7-7 and in ninth place in the AFC. That is a far cry from the Jets’ 5-2 record following their Week 7 win against the Broncos.
Since then, they’ve lost five of their last seven, including three consecutive losses. Another defeat and Gang Green’s playoff hopes could go up in smoke.
Following a 2-6 start, the Jaguars have rebounded and are 6-8 and trail the Titans by just a game for the lead in the AFC South.
Even with a lot on the line, Wilson said he won’t get caught up in the hype of him versus Lawrence.
“We’re just trying to go against those guys,” Wilson said. “It’s interesting because it’s almost like it’s two separate things when you’re sitting there watching the other quarterback, it’s not even the same kind of game. We’re going against their defense. It is separate, of course, but you’re always trying to go out there and get that win.”