Fans showed up for the Jets’ home opener ready to love Zach Wilson, the shiny new apple of their eyes, hope springing eternal.
Then the rookie quarterback was intercepted four times at a time in the game when he had thrown just four complete passes, with Bill Belichick gleefully seeing the ghost of Sam Darnold.
Then fans booed him in the fourth quarter that day. Then his knee wouldn’t let him play. Then they fell in love with Mike White and chanted his name.
And now, on Sunday against the Eagles, Wilson will get his second home opener, his second chance to captivate fans who are desperate to be captivated.
A second chance to hear what New York can sound like when it begins believing that you can be the light in shining armor illuminating the relentless darkness that has enveloped one Jets football season after the next.
MetLife Stadium last saw him on Oct. 3. Wilson upset the Titans, threw for 297 yards and two touchdowns that day.
It has been his one shining New York moment.
New York craves a second from the second-overall pick of the 2021 draft. Jets fans who chanted “Mike White, Mike White, Mike White” so badly want to chant “Zach, Zach, Zach.” Wilson so badly wants to hear it.
Everyone, of course, should have expected a roller-coaster ride: rookie quarterback, rookie head coach, rookie offensive coordinator. But patience is not a virtue long-suffering Jets fans are interested in harboring. And sometimes these love affairs take time. It took years for Giants fans to embrace Phil Simms. He likes to say he wore them out.
Wilson took baby steps last week at Houston. Baby steps for a rookie franchise quarterback are OK for some fans, but not enough for others who don’t want to endure another trial by error. So Simms has some sage advice for Wilson:
“Keep your mind clear on what you’re doing, and don’t worry about the outside noise. Easy to say, hard to do it sometimes, especially for a young guy. But that’s what he’s gotta do. That’s the only way to survive through periods like this.
“That’s part about being an NFL quarterback, and for almost everybody, it’s rough. And there’s always a period like this that Zach Wilson’s going through, and you just gotta fight through it. And show everybody how tough you are mentally and physically. I think he answered one of those questions big-time physically down in Houston.”
Another former Super Bowl champion, Trent Dilfer, graded Wilson as a late first-round, early second-round pick before the draft.
“I don’t look at talent as much as I look at DNA,” Dilfer told The Post. “And his DNA is playmaker. And the DNA of the best quarterbacks in the NFL are surgeons, right? They’re willing to take the scalpel out and just do a tiny little incision to save your life. And Zach’s DNA was butcher. I need a machete, and I’m gonna chop up a piece of meat and give you a pastrami sandwich.
“Nobody loves a pastrami sandwich more than me. But it’s not gonna save your life. A scalpel’s gonna save your life. Tom Brady works a scalpel.”
Can a butcher learn how to use a scalpel?
“Yes, I think they can,” Dilfer said. “And actually I’m a big fan of Zach even though I didn’t have his grade as high as everybody else. I actually think he can do it, and actually that’s what I would draft. I would draft a butcher and turn him into a surgeon. If you draft a surgeon, you may never get Superman cape. And then your ceiling’s low. So I’m all about drafting the high-upside guy. You just need to have the right people in place to teach him how to be a surgeon, and use the scalpel.”
It isn’t ideal that Wilson and rookie offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur, who is beginning to look like a quick study, are undergoing growing pains together.
“The cool thing is now with these rookie contracts, the two of them together have three years,” Dilfer said. “And I’d be shocked if they don’t figure it out by the beginning of the third year together. Now this year and next year, I don’t think it’s gonna be great. But I think the end of Year 2, early Year 3, you’re gonna see a significant jump forward.”
Until then, Wilson needs to learn when to take what they give him versus when to take what he wants.
“Once he gets really comfortable again, then I want to see that arm talent,” Simms said. “When you look at young quarterbacks, we all want to see the talent, and display that, and then let’s slowly put the rest of it together — managing the game, doing the right thing with the football, all that.
“But I think always, even casual fans want to look at the screen, and watch it on TV, or go to the game, and they want to see a quarterback that’s got talent that excites you, and gives you hope for what’s coming in the future.”
Root for the kid to keep hope alive.