Locals in the NFL: Zach Wilson debuts with 2 second-half TDs amid pressure in Jets loss

New York Jets quarterback Zach Wilson celebrates after scoring a 2-point conversion with Tyler Kroft against the Carolina Panthers during the second half of an NFL football game Sunday, Sept. 12, 2021, in Charlotte, N.C. (Nell Redmond, Associated Press)

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AROUND THE SHIELD — Zach Wilson showed flashes that he belonged in the league, but also got a rude welcome to the NFL in his rookie debut Sunday in Charlotte.

Wilson threw for 258 yards, two touchdowns and an interception, but the Jets' second-half rally fell short to their former quarterback Sam Darnold and the Carolina Panthers 19-14 in Sunday's season opener.

The No. 2 overall pick in April's NFL draft connected twice with receiver Corey Davis, who had 97 yards on five catches. But he also threw an ill-timed pick in the first half, took six sacks, and faced 10 quarterback hurries en route to a quarterback rating of 82.9.

The Jets' first rookie team captain since the NFL first established the rank in 2007, Wilson played like a rookie captain — both as a rookie and a captain in leadership. He had his moments, but also made his mistakes.

A film junkie by nature, he'll have plenty to review in the hours and days to come. Wilson is a professional now, and he'll tackle his professional responsibilities with the same tenacity he did in college.

The Corner Canyon product completed just 6-of-16 passes for 84 yards with an interception in his first half of play, with one or fewer completions on five of the Jets' first six offensive drives. Sure, he found flashes of magic, like hooking up with Davis for a 35-yard gain and finding tight end Tyler Kroft twice for 20 yards before the break.

But he also took three sacks — with varying degrees of responsibility on the signal caller — in a first half where New York accumulated just 82 yards on 30 plays, a dismal 2.7 yards per play average that threatened to bring out the all-too-familiar paper bags back in New Jersey. Some of that is on the offensive line — but not all of it.

In all, the Jets allowed six sacks, 11 quarterback hits, and pressure on 40% of Wilson's drop-backs.

"There's a lot of things involved in protection," Jets coach Robert Saleh said. "I'm never going to just blame the offensive line, especially in the first half, when a lot of those breakdowns happened. There's route running, there's the quarterback getting rid of the football, and there's protection, too.

"But at the end of the day, protection's got to hold up. It's a collective effort, not just solely on the offensive line."

The first 16 times Wilson dropped back to pass, the former BYU quarterback was pressured 10 times and sacked once, according to ESPN's Rich Cimini. On the last sack, he said he felt like he was hit by a truck.

"Neck's a little sore, a little whiplash, but I'll be alright," Wilson told reporters after the game. "Every series is kind of a new series, like a new game. Even early on when we were struggling, I felt like we were so close. I feel like it was really just settling in, honing in on the details, and then just execution."

For his part, Wilson didn't make any excuses, either.

"It's tough, but it's part of the job," he said. "It's why you sign up to be a quarterback. I think I'm getting better.

"You can't just say, 'there's pressure; I can't do my job.' It's how quarterbacks are supposed to play."

Carolina Panthers quarterback Sam Darnold passes against the New York Jets during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Sept. 12, 2021, in Charlotte, N.C.
Carolina Panthers quarterback Sam Darnold passes against the New York Jets during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Sept. 12, 2021, in Charlotte, N.C. (Photo: Nell Redmond, Associated Press)

The guy Wilson replaced in New York — Darnold — fared much better in his season opener. The former USC quarterback completed 17-of-22 passes for 234 yards and a touchdown in the first half, and also ran for a 5-yard score to give the Panthers a 16-0 lead at the break.

Playing behind an offensive line that rotated in former BYU and Bountiful High standout Brady Christensen, Darnold led Carolina to 272 yards of offense in the first half, an average of 8.5 yards per play and three consecutive scoring drives to end the half in a game the home team never trailed.

The start was rough, but it got nominally better.

"The entire group in general, that first half, there were so many missed opportunities," Saleh said. "A lot of dropped balls, had a couple of potential explosives that resulted in drops. Even in the run game, we weren't getting the push we were accustomed to getting.

"He (Wilson) made plays in the second half, off schedule and in the pocket. We just couldn't get the ball back."

Wilson scored his first career NFL touchdown on a 22-yard dart to Davis with 1:25 left in the third quarter. The former BYU quarterback completed 4-of-4 passes for 57 yards during an eight-play, 70-yard drive capped by the touchdown and Wilson's skipping two-point conversion that pulled the Jets within one score 16-8.

Wilson added a second touchdown to Davis, an 8-yarder with just under two minutes to play. But his pass failed on the two-point conversion, New York trailed by five, and a failed onside kick helped the Panthers run out the clock en route to their own 1-0 start.

Former Utah cornerback Javelin Guidry made three tackles, including one of four tackles for loss, for the Jets (0-1).

Here's how other former local high school and college football stars fared in Week 1 of the NFL's first-ever 17-game season.

LA Rams 34, Chicago 14

Orem High graduate and former Utah kicker Matt Gay booted field goals of 53 and 22 yards as the Rams pulled away from the Bears on Sunday Night Football.

Former Utah safety Terrell Burgess and Weber State defensive end Jonah Williams rotated off the bench for the Rams (1-0).

Former Utah cornerback Jaylon Johnson made five tackles for the Bears (0-1), while former BYU nose tackle Khyiris Tonga and Utah State long snapper Patrick Scales rotated off the bench.

LA Chargers 20, Washington 16

Former BYU cornerback Michael Davis started and made four tackles and forced a fumble in the Chargers' season-opening win over the Football Team.

Former Orem High safety Alohi Gilman made one tackle on defense and assisted on another, and Utah State alum Kyler Fackrell assisted on a tackle on special teams for the Chargers (1-0).

Former BYU wide receiver Dax Milnecame off the bench for Washington, which did not play former Jordan High and Utah State center Tyler Larsen.

New Orleans 38, Green Bay 3

Former Utah safety Marcus Williams had one tackle, a pass breakup and an interception, and former Judge Memorial quarterback Kaden Elliss recovered a fumble as the Saints (1-0) routed the Packers in Jameis Winston's regular-season debut as starting quarterback.

Former BYU quarterback Taysom Hill came off the bench to run twice, completed a 3-yard pass, and was tackled for a loss for New Orleans, who did not activate former Utah standout Chase Hansen at linebacker.

Former Utah State star Jordan Love made his NFL regular-season debut in relief of Aaron Rodgers, who was benched after throwing for 133 yards and two interceptions in the Packers' loss. Love completed 5-of-7 passes for 68 yards, but also fumbled the game-ending turnover to Elliss with 1:10 remaining — one of three turnovers on the day for the Packers.

Arizona 38, Tennessee 13

Herriman High and Utah product Leki Fotu broke up one pass in the Cardinals' win over the Titans.

Pittsburgh 23, Buffalo 16

Miles Killebrew blocked a punt as the Steelers (1-0) scored 20 unanswered points en route to a win over the Bills.

The former Southern Utah safety's deep stuff with 9:45 remaining set up Ulysees Gilbert's 9-yard scoop-and-score that turned a 10-0 deficit into a 20-10 lead in the fourth quarter.

Former Utah standouts Zack Moss and Star Lotulelei were inactive for the Bills. Former Weber State defensive back Taron Johnson had a team-high seven tackles and two pass breakups for Buffalo (0-1).

Seattle 28, Indianapolis 16

Former Utah State star Bobby Wagner had a team-high 13 tackles, one tackle for loss and a pass breakup as the Seahawks (1-0) pulled away from the Colts.

Highland High alum Bryan Mone made five tackles with a quarterback hurry for the Seahawks. Former Utah safety Marquise Blair added two tackles for Seattle, and Brighton High and Utah alum Cody Barton made one stop on defense and assisted on another on special teams.

Layton High grad Julian Blackmon, who played at Utah, had five tackles and a tackle for loss for the Colts (0-1). Former BYU cornerback Chris Wilcox was not activated by Indianapolis.

Houston 37, Jacksonville 21

Former Bingham High standout Jay Tufele was not active in the Jaguars' loss to the Texans.

San Francisco 41, Detroit 33

Former BYU star Fred Warner had a game-high 11 tackles to help the 49ers hold off the Lions' late rally.

Utah punting grad Mitch Wishnowsky punted twice for 76 yards, an average of 38 yards per punt — both downed inside the 20.

BYU all-time leading rusher Jamaal Williams ran for a team-high 54 yards on nine carries for the Lions, including a 1-yard touchdown plunge with 1:53 left that sparked a 16-0 run to end the game after Detroit trailed by as much as 41-17.

Former Desert Hills lineman Penei Sewell started at left tackle for the Lions (0-1), and former Utah nose tackle John Penisini rotated on the defensive line.

Detroit Lions running back D'Andre Swift (32) runs as San Francisco 49ers defensive back Jason Verrett (2) makes the tackle in the first half of an NFL football game in Detroit, Sunday, Sept. 12, 2021.
Detroit Lions running back D'Andre Swift (32) runs as San Francisco 49ers defensive back Jason Verrett (2) makes the tackle in the first half of an NFL football game in Detroit, Sunday, Sept. 12, 2021. (Photo: Duane Burleson, Associated Press)

Kansas City 33, Cleveland 29

Former BYU safety Daniel Sorensen had four tackles and a quarterback hurry as the Chiefs overturned a 22-10 halftime deficit and rallied by the Browns.

Former Layton High receiver Marcus Kemp came off the bench for Kansas City (1-0) and made a tackle after Cleveland recovered a fumble in the fourth quarter.

Former BYU linebacker Sione Takitaki had one tackle for the Browns (0-1).

Miami 17, New England 16

Former Utah defensive Eric Rowe made nine tackles and forced a fumble while starting at safety as the Dolphins (1-0) edged the Patriots.

Kyle Van Noy came off the bench to make three tackles, a 10-yard sack, a quarterback hurry and a pass breakup for the Patriots (0-1), and fellow BYU product Harvey Langi also came off the bench for New England.

Cincinnati 27, Minnesota 24

Former Timpview star Xavier Su'a-Filo started at right guard, and Utah State alum Jalen Davis rotated at cornerback in the Bengals' win over the Vikings.

Former Utah State linebacker Nick Vigil, who prepped at Fremont, racked up 10 tackles, a sack, two tackles for loss and a quarterback hurry for the Vikings (0-1).

Denver 27, NY Giants 13

Former Utah wideout Tim Patrick caught 4 passes for 39 yards, including a 2-yard touchdown from Teddy Bridgewater, in the Broncos' win over the Giants.

Fellow Utah grad Garett Bolles started at left tackle for Denver (1-0), while former Utah running back Devontae Booker ran for 7 yards on four carries and caught a 6-yard pass for the Giants (0-1).

Tampa Bay 31, Dallas 29

Starting tight end Dalton Schultz, who prepped at Bingham, caught all six of his targets for 45 yards in the Cowboys' loss to the Buccaneers on Thursday Night Football.

Former Brighton standout Simi Fehoko played nine snaps on special teams for the Cowboys (0-1), and ex-Utah defensive end Bradlee Anae played 10 snaps on defense and 18 on special teams.

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