EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — Zach Wilson’s comeback story was going about as well as he and the New York Jets could’ve hoped.
There were big-time throws, a pretty touchdown and loud cheers from the MetLife Stadium crowd.
Then came the second half. And a devastating ending.
Wilson had a costly interception to open the third quarter and the offense mostly stumbled after a promising start in a 20-17 loss to the Detroit Lions on Sunday that dealt a huge blow to New York’s playoff hopes.
“Just the ups and downs of football,” Wilson said. “In that moment of coming out there and throwing a bad interception, I gave up three points and put our defense in a bad situation there. You see how those three points came to bite us in the end.
“I’ve got to take care of the football.”
That has been a knock on Wilson since being drafted No. 2 overall last year out of BYU. But he has also shown flashes of being able to pull off athletic, off-schedule plays — and did so again at times in his return from being benched for three games.
“That boy battled,” wide receiver Garrett Wilson said.
But it wasn’t enough as the Jets fell to 7-7 with their third straight loss that has their playoff chances in dire straits.
“Everyone knows that we’ve got to win out,” coach Robert Saleh said. “But we’ve got a quick turnaround. We’ve got a Thursday night game, we’ve got Jacksonville coming to town. They’re another high-octane offense.”
Saleh was then informed the Jaguars (6-8) beat Dallas in overtime.
“They won?” he asked. “They’re feeling good about themselves.”
The same can’t be said of the sinking Jets, who controlled their playoff destiny just a few weeks ago. And they might have let this one against the Lions slip away.
With the Jets having seized the momentum by tying the game at 10 on Greg Zuerlein’s 34-yard field goal as time expired in the first half, Wilson had been efficient and effective after being benched for three games to “reset” his mechanics and mental approach.
He was 8 of 14 for 185 yards and a touchdown with a 125.6 quarterback rating through two quarters.
The Jets got the ball to open the third quarter and Wilson made his first big mistake, floating a pass to Elijah Moore that was easily picked off by Jerry Jacobs and returned 38 yards to the Jets 15.
After a tough stand by New York’s defense, Detroit settled for a go-ahead 34-yarder by Michael Badgley that made it 13-10.
“I thought he played well,” Saleh said. “There’s ebbs and flows of a game. There’s always going to be things we can nitpick at, but he moved the ball, created explosive plays. Obviously, we’re going to watch the tape and everybody can be better from a technique standpoint, not just him.”
After that solid start, Wilson went 10 of 21 for 132 yards — and heard boos at times from the crowd — in the second half as the offense sputtered.
“I’ve got to be better, man,” he said.
But Wilson still had a chance to pull off a fantastic finish.
He threw a go-ahead 1-yard touchdown pass to C.J. Uzomah with 4:41 remaining, his second connection of the game with the tight end.
Jared Goff then threw a stunning counterpunch as he connected with Brock Wright for a go-ahead 51-yard touchdown pass on fourth-and-1 with 1:49 left against a defense that had mostly stymied Detroit.
“We’re all devastated,” cornerback D.J. Reed said.
Still, Wilson and the Jets had a final chance.
His 22-yard pass to Garrett Wilson on third down kept the comeback alive. And on fourth-and-the game, he rolled to his right and completed a 20-yard pass to Moore on the left side for a first down.
Saleh called a timeout with 1 second remaining, but Zuerlein was wide left on a potential tying 58-yarder.
“Z’s obviously a hell of a kicker, but that’s not on him,” Zach Wilson said. “We have to put him in a better situation there.”
Wilson started because Mike White wasn’t cleared by doctors to play after he fractured a few ribs in New York’s 20-12 loss at Buffalo last Sunday.
It would appear unlikely White would be able to go Thursday night against the Jaguars, but Saleh declined to say who would start that game.
“I don’t know if I’m prepared to answer that question right now,” he said.
Wilson also wouldn’t speculate as to whether he did enough to earn another start. And in a game that could go a long way in deciding New York’s postseason fate.
“I think that’s not up to me,” he said. “For me, I think it comes back to how can I watch this film, how can I improve and can I keep trying to put our offense in the best situation to win? And I didn’t do that today.”
By DENNIS WASZAK Jr. AP Pro Football Writer
AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL
Photo: © Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports