At the time, the Jets had a quarterback who they believed could control the AFC East. Chad Pennington, the 18th pick in the 2000 draft, was compared by some to a young Joe Montana in 2002, even though Tom Brady, the 199th pick in the same draft, had already won a Super Bowl.
As the Jets prepared for a playoff game in Oakland, Raiders linebacker Bill Romanowski declared that his defense would “put our hats on [Pennington] for 60 minutes and we’ll see if this guy is the next Joe Montana. ”
With the 30-10 demolition completed, Romanowski said, “I think we saw tonight that he is not.”
He ended up being right. Derailed by an injury, Pennington was a good player, certainly not a legendary one. His story resonates today because you just never know about young quarterbacks. No one at the time could have imagined that Pennington would win just one AFC East title for the Jets (and another later for Miami), while Brady would win 17 for the Patriots.
All these years later, the Jets have another young quarterback who they believe will one day own the division. Zach Wilson will not be measured against his latest enemy, Brady, because the big one left AFC East for a little fun in the sun in Tampa. And yet, Wilson’s long-term divisional competition still looks formidable.
Sunday’s opponent, Josh Allen, is already an established star in Buffalo at the age of 25. Mac Jones, who was drafted 13 places later than Wilson, has already led the Patriots to the playoffs at the age of 23. Although Tua Tagovailoa has not strengthened his future in Miami, the potential arrival of 26-year-old Deshaun Watson could make the division so much harder to navigate.
Is 22-year-old Wilson ready for it? Is he talented enough to eventually overtake a great and powerful thoroughbred like Allen? Is he smart enough to outfox Jones and a support system that includes Bill Belichick (probably for another four or five years at least) and the best offensive coordinator of his generation in Josh McDaniels?
It’s too early to tell. But if all goes according to the Jets’ plan, Wilson will be their quarterback for the next 15 years and will likely be matched with Allen and Jones for most of that time. Asked on Thursday whether he embraced that long-distance challenge, Wilson said: “Yes, absolutely, that’s the goal. That’s what I’re working to play for so long, and I also think the matches in our division are fantastic.”
The rookie steered the conversation to the opposing AFC East defense he faces, a smart focal point as Bill defends the pass better than anyone else. But once again, just as much as quarterbacks love to point out that they are not directly competing against each other on the field, there is a reason why wins and losses are not assigned to any position other than the one behind the middle. The quarterback’s main responsibility is to score more points than the other team’s quarterback, so the direct competition between them is very real.
“Hopefully I can take that challenge on myself and just be here as long as I can,” Wilson said.
Towards that end, last Sunday was a pretty good place to start. Wilson had a chance to beat Brady, and made the mistake of running a sneak on fourth-and-2. The child’s co-rookie, Mike LaFleur, said the unforced error was “100 percent on me”, but the offensive coordinator was not the one who decided that an almost impossible goalkeeper was a better option on the call than a transfer to Braxton Berrios , who had run wild. Wilson should have known better.
But all in all, he played his best match as a pro against the defending champions. After a lot of ignorant football this year, Wilson has recently emerged comfortable, determined and fast, not unlike the quarterback he loves to study on tape, Aaron Rodgers. “He’s getting better and better every single week,” said LaFleur, who called Wilson’s ball placement on some throws spectacular.
“It’s been fun watching him grow,” Jets coach Robert Saleh said.
Given the severity of the growing pains during this 4-12 season, “fun” is not the way most Jets fans would describe the process. Of course, fans will not care about the 2021 record as long as Wilson matches the career of Allen, who in his first year at Buffalo threw for 10 touchdowns against 12 interceptions and only completed 52.8 percent of his attempts.
The truth is, no one really knows what will become of rookie quarterbacks; After all, Brady started as a fourth-striker at Foxborough, throwing just three passes in Year 1. Wilson is not going to deal with him like Chad Pennington and a procession of overmatched Jets quarterbacks did, but he will have to deal with him. with Allen and Jones / Belichick and who knows in Miami.
It’s a tough question, but the Jets will not take over this division unless Zach Wilson gets the beast in the AFC East.