Jets bench Zach Wilson ahead of Week 12 matchup vs. Bears; Mike White to start at QB

Zach Wilson’s rough 2022 season has reached a new low.

Mike White will start in place of a benched Wilson in New York’s Week 12 game against the Chicago Bears, head coach Robert Saleh announced on Wednesday. Veteran Joe Flacco will serve as the backup, as Wilson will not dress for the game.

“The big thing I want to make sure I address on this one, just want to make sure you guys all listen to this very carefully please. Zach’s career here is not over,” Saleh said. “I know that’s gonna be the narrative, I know that’s what everyone wants to shout out and that’s not even close to the case. The intent, the full intent, is to make sure Zach gets back onto the football field at some point this year. When that is, I’ll make that decision, I’m going to take it day to day. The biggest thing with Zach, it’s the same things we’ve talked about, is the young man needs a reset.”

Wilson’s benching wasn’t a long time coming, but also isn’t shocking. The second-year quarterback has struggled for much of this season, completing just 55.6% of his passes and posting a 4-5 touchdown-to-interception ratio and 72.6 passer rating. His worst performance was his most recent, a 9-for-22 outing for a whopping 77 yards in a 10-3 loss to New England.

Following the game, Wilson told reporters he didn’t feel responsible for New York’s second loss to New England in the last month. His response forced his teammates to answer for him in the days that followed, and by Wednesday, Saleh decided Wilson needed a sabbatical in order to preserve his long-term ambitions of becoming New York’s franchise quarterback, telling reporters he didn’t want to continue “throwing him out there” and seeing Wilson devolve further.

New York’s two losses to New England account for half of the Jets’ defeats this season, and the fault isn’t solely Wilson’s. Saleh admitted his team needs to be better as a whole in order to maximize the opportunity facing them.

“This isn’t just a Zach thing,” Saleh said. “We’ve all got to be better. We’re not going to become the Greatest Show on Turf just because we’re changing out one player.”

Saleh said he believed Wilson’s time on the sideline would benefit the quarterback over the long haul, focusing on Wilson’s work ethic while emphasizing the importance of improving his fundamentals instead of preparing for the next opponent. When asked if the switch also gave the Jets their best chance of victory, Saleh responded affirmatively.

The timing of Saleh’s decision, while unintentional, is fitting. New York faces a Chicago team that is enjoying a significant improvement from Justin Fields, a fellow member of the 2021 draft class whom the Bears selected nine picks after the Jets chose Wilson. Instead of setting up for a showdown of former first-rounders, the Jets are turning to White to lead them against Fields, whose status is uncertain after suffering a shoulder injury in Chicago’s Week 11 loss to Atlanta.

It’s also intriguing because the Jets aren’t exactly running into a defensive buzz saw in the Bears. Chicago owns a middle-of-the-road defense that is better against the pass than the run, but is also in a transition period after trading away Robert Quinn and Roquan Smith before the deadline.

What could have been a get-right game for Wilson is now a landmark moment in the QB’s career, which is still young but might also have reached a definitive fork in his NFL road. It will be up to Wilson to respond to his benching positively, using it as motivation to fix his fundamental issues before working his way back into the starting lineup.

In the meantime, the 6-4 Jets will continue their playoff push. Whether that ends up including Wilson remains to be seen.

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