Not yet a day removed from the loss of Aaron Rodgers to a season-ending Achilles tear casting a shadow over a dramatic win, New York Jets head coach Robert Saleh delivered an emphatic message to all who were listening.
The Jets' 2023 season is not dead. They're moving forward with hefty expectations and doing so with Zach Wilson as their starting quarterback.
"I don't know why people are trying to put an obituary onto our team name," Saleh told reporters during his Tuesday news conference. "Aaron is an unbelievable piece to this whole thing and we love him, but I think there's 52 other guys in the locker room plus the 16 practice squad guys that believe that we can do a hell of a lot of good things here.
"We got a championship-caliber defense, we got great skill guys on the offensive side of the ball, our (offensive) line has continued to gel and get better, but we're excited about our group.
"While the outside world can go ahead and write whatever story they want to write, there's still the true story being written in this building."
Though the aforementioned outside world might well be burying the Jets, Saleh is doing his best to imbue confidence into his squad and its fanbase.
The first step was a firm and confident statement that Wilson, the much-maligned former No. 2 overall pick, will be the starter going forward. On Sunday, Wilson will start against the Dallas Cowboys, his first start since Week 16 of last season when he was thrust back into the QB1 slot after Mike White was injured. Saleh said Tim Boyle will move up the depth chart to No. 2 and they will potentially add another player to the QB room, but Wilson is now once more Gang Green's unquestioned starter.
"We are going to look through some things, but I do want to make it very clear: Zach's our quarterback," Saleh said. "We got a lot of faith in Zach, we're really excited about his opportunity. But we're rolling with Zach and excited for him and, like I said, this opportunity that he's going to get."
Wilson's struggles over the past two seasons, and most notably in 2022, were the impetus for the Jets' offseason trade for Rodgers. The Rodgers renaissance lasted roughly a New York minute on Monday night. On just his fourth snap as a Jet, Rodgers was sacked by the Bills' Leonard Floyd. He was carted off the field and into the locker room as New York's best-laid blueprints turned into rubble.
After Xavier Gipson's sensational 65-yard run-off punt return in overtime lifted the Jets to a victory, Saleh told the media Rodgers had likely suffered an Achilles injury that would end his season before it had really begun. He underscored his confidence in Wilson then and on Tuesday did it more emphatically.
"From a mental standpoint, he's so much different than this time a year ago," Saleh said of Wilson. "He's in a great frame of mind, he's loving the game of football, he's loving the process that he's going through, he's got a lot of confidence. All the little things that we saw in college that he was struggling with a year ago are not the struggles that he had. He's fixed a lot of things. A lot of things. So, we're very excited about him."
Saleh somewhat surprisingly pointed out that at one point last season, Wilson was 5-1 as a starter.
Conventional wisdom suggested the Jets, buoyed by a sensational defense, were winning despite Wilson, rather than on the strength of his game. A reminder was delivered in the BYU product's relief appearance on Monday against the Bills. Wilson finished the night 14 of 21 for 140 yards, a touchdown, an interception and an 81.4 rating. His touchdown was less about his off-target pass and more about how Garrett Wilson essentially broke up a possible interception and hauled in an all-time TD catch.
"Obviously, [Zach Wilson] will acknowledge he still has a lot of things to learn and grow and we're excited to be able to do that with him," Saleh said. "I think he's been able to rebuild rapport with his teammates and just the overall -- just the way he's kind of handled himself has been fantastic -- but everything about him is just so much different than a year ago. Is it happening faster than I think anyone expected? Obviously, under the circumstances. But he's somebody that's made a drastic improvement from a year ago."
Saleh later clarified he believes Zach Wilson has built confidence with his teammates, more so than just rapport. Wilson's maturity was called into question plenty a season ago. Perhaps that's improved. We'll see shortly.
The Jets went all-in on Rodgers and busted in unfathomable fashion. It was just one hand, though.
Saleh's star-laden defense is still intact. Running back Breece Hall was sensational in his return from a torn ACL on Monday and Wilson (the wide receiver version) still took an opportunity to show he's one of the game's greatest young wideouts.
The Jets haven't had a winning season since 2015 and they haven't made the postseason since 2010. With or without Rodgers, ending those streaks are still the goals at hand.
"Expectations for us are always the same," Saleh said. "I've said before that you can be an expansion team in the NFL and you're still expected to go 17-0. It's expectation versus controllables. We never talk expectations because the only expectation we have of ourselves is to go out and do our best every single day and maximize who we are and go to bed better than when we woke up.
"While the narrative might change on the outside world and the articles that are being written, the expectation here is to continue to give ourselves an opportunity to put our best foot forward."
The final question asked of Saleh Tuesday was what his message was to Jets fans. He simply replied, "we're on to Dallas."