Mac Jones has a talent Zach Wilson never will

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“Why me?”

Among other things, that’s what Jets second-year quarterback Zach Wilson said when told he would be getting benched this week by head coach Robert Saleh.

Something about that line felt more jarring even than Wilson nonchalantly replying “no” when asked if he thought he and the Jets offense had let their sterling defense down against the Patriots last Sunday.

What do you mean, “why you?” Have you seen yourself play football? Blame the windy conditions or poor execution of your teammates all you want; being a quarterback means leading from the front and falling on the sword if need be.

If Wilson ever wanted a lesson in how to do that with a semblance of grace, he could’ve just looked at two of his fellow 2021 draft classmates.

Justin Fields apologized to his defense after a late interception killed their chances to tie the game despite the fact he played through a partially separated left shoulder and has been the only good thing about the Chicago Bears for more than a month. (One of the team’s defensive stars, Eddie Jackson, stopped Fields’ apology before he could finish.)

And then, there’s Mac Jones: the guy a significant portion of New England has already chewed up and spit out in their hearts in minds after he scuffled to start the season, got hurt, got benched for Bailey Zappe during a loss to the Bears and has struggled to produce points since his return.

In fact, some have wondered if the only thing saving Jones from the same fate as Wilson is the Patriots’ current record and three-game win streak.

Perhaps. But there’s more to it than that.

For one, even though both their teams only mustered three offensive points, Jones outplayed Wilson last Sunday by several orders of magnitude not just by statistics but overall process and decision-making (with some warts involved, of course).

Beyond that, though, maybe you can boil it down to this: Jones is a professional and a leader, and Wilson isn’t.

How many times have you heard Jones say something like “We have to be better and it starts with me” despite questionable play-calling or general execution around him.

How many times have you heard teammates call Wilson a “warrior” or say the team is “very fortunate” to have him as their quarterback, even with everyone outside the locker room theorizing you can’t read a defense, don’t have the baseline skills to play your position or that your confidence is shot?

Those things might not make him a better NFL quarterback on the field in the same way making a man a knight doesn’t necessarily make him a better fighter. But we certainly learned this week that doing them might help you keep your job, especially when you’re struggling.

All we hear about in regards to Jones is what he doesn’t have: elite athleticism, a top-tier arm, the ability to create something out of nothing that guys like Patrick Mahomes, Lamar Jackson and Fields all have or rookie Bailey Zappe’s unquestioned acceptance of the offense. (If Jones is really asking “Why?” about this offensive scheme behind the scenes a lot, can you really blame him?)

In the minds of many, Jones might be able to play as a really good backup or average starter but simply doesn’t have what it takes to be great in this league. Wilson, meanwhile, has every bit of talent needed to be a superstar in the league — every trait Jones lacks and more.

But Jones continually shows he has a few crucial things Wilson doesn’t: accountability and the courage not to crumble when adversity hits.

That’s why Jones could hit 23/27 passes for 246 yards last Sunday during swirling conditions while Wilson struggled to hit the broad side of a barn, and that’s why Jones has respect from his teammates Wilson clearly doesn’t — anyone who thinks this locker room isn’t behind Jones hasn’t talked to those guys.

Jones very well might not be what the Patriots fans want or need him to be, and perhaps the team could look elsewhere after a year or two to try and get a star at that position. All of that is possible. The NFL is cruel that way, especially for young quarterbacks who can’t ascend quickly enough (sometimes even in spite of their situations).

At this point, the odds he signs a second contract with this team feel below 50 percent, though there’s still a ways to go in deciding that. He's going to need to lead a bunch of touchdown drives down the stretch of this season and probably win a playoff game to meaningfully move that needle the other way.

But at the very least, don’t disrespect this man by mentioning him in the same breath as Zach Wilson ever again. They couldn’t be more different, and that’s a tremendous compliment.

Featured Image Photo Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports