FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) — Zach Wilson knows the noise is out there — and it’s blaring right now.
The New York Jets quarterback is being criticized, slammed and ripped apart by frustrated fans on social media and sports talk radio, and his unflattering play has been documented and dissected by reporters.
Wilson understands it all. The embattled one-time face of the franchise is trying to tune it out.
“I mean, I don’t know if I would say it fuels me because I like to ignore it, you know? Wilson said Thursday. ”And I get the passion and the frustration, absolutely. But my job as a quarterback is to focus on how I can get better, how I can help this offense score, how I can help us win games. And it needs to improve and needs to get better.
“But that starts in the film room with the coaches checking out those plays and then just doing my job from there.”
The third-year quarterback is set to make his third straight start in place of the injured Aaron Rodgers on Sunday night against the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs.
The game in front of a prime-time audience will cap a week that has been particularly rough for Wilson. He has ranked at the bottom of the NFL in quarterback rating each of the past two seasons, the first to do so since the 1970 merger. Wilson is again last at 57.0, and his 52.4% completion rate is also last in the league.
Even Joe Namath, the most revered figure in the franchise’s history, said in a radio interview this week he has seen enough of Wilson. He’s calling for a quarterback change, and so are those same fans who would be OK with just about anyone other than Wilson at this point.
“Obviously, Joe was an unbelievable player, but this locker room is very tight knit and we’re working to get better,” Wilson said. “I’m working to get better. I know I need to improve and I promise I’m doing everything I can to keep trying to get better.”
But now he needs results.
Wilson was supposed to be sitting, of course, while Rodgers took the Big Apple by storm. A torn left Achilles tendon changed all that, and Wilson was thrust back in the starting role.
While he insists he’s blocking out the chatter outside the facility, his teammates are surely hearing it. And if the quarterback can’t get the job done and the Jets continue to falter, the possibility of unrest in the locker room could quickly become a reality.
“This narrative outside of this locker room is different than the narrative that’s in this locker room,” said Wilson. wearing a black, long-sleeved T-shirt with the words “I Got Your Back” written on the front that hangs in each player’s locker.
“I truly believe the guys in this locker room all have each other’s back. I’ve got theirs and I feel like they’ve got mine. And we’re going to keep doing everything we can to improve.”
The players have insisted they still believe in Wilson, saying the offense’s struggles are not just on him. Coach Robert Saleh has said the same, while also noting Wilson needs to play better.
Offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett echoed those sentiments, and also shouldered some blame. The Jets rank last in third-down efficiency and even Chiefs linebacker Willie Gay held back a laugh when he was asked what he saw from the Jets’ offense and then said it looked as if it’s in “panic mode” after Rodgers was hurt.
“If you take our body of work these past three games, it hasn’t been pretty,” Hackett said. “That’s facts. And again, like anybody that questions us, we have the right to prove everybody wrong. But in the end, we have to do it.”
The fans at MetLife Stadium booed him and the offense a few times during the Jets’ 15-10 loss to New England.
And as much as Wilson tries to block it all out, those jeers could reach a fever pitch if he doesn’t somehow help turn things around against Kansas City on Sunday night.
“I feel like I’ve improved as a player and it’s obviously not perfect,” Wilson said. “I have things to work on, but I have the guys to rely on. Every single day, it’s just how can I put one foot in front of the other, keep improving and get better, have confidence?
“You know, we’re three games into the season. There’s no reason to freak out or panic right now. And I think we’re close.”
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