An exciting new chapter in the Jets-Patriots “Border War’’ will come to life Sunday at MetLife Stadium.
The Zach Wilson-Mac Jones Era is about to begin. It’s an era that both the Jets and Patriots hope is a long and productive one worthy of actually being labeled an era.
Both Wilson, whom the Jets drafted with the second-overall pick, and Jones, whom the Patriots plucked with the 15th-overall pick, lost their respective NFL debuts on Sunday. But both showed flashes of the reasons why they were drafted so highly and are starting as rookies.
Wilson, after struggling during the first half of the Jets’ 19-14 loss at Carolina, finished 20-for-37 (54.1 percent) for 258 yards with two touchdowns and one interception.
Jones, the first rookie to start at quarterback for New England since Drew Bledsoe in 1993, completed 29 of 39 passes (74.4 percent) for 289 yards with a touchdown and no picks in the Patriots’ 17-16 home loss to the Dolphins.
One of the two youngsters likely will even his career record at 1-1 by dinner time Sunday.
The Patriots are a year removed from their divorce with Tom Brady after 20 years of amazing memories and a trophy case overflowing with Lombardi trophies. With Brady migrating to Tampa last year, Belichick was on to Cam Newton. That didn’t go so well. Newton was released a few weeks ago and now Belichick is on to Jones.
The Jets, without the rich quarterback history and with a barren trophy case, are on to whomever can lead them to their first playoff berth since 2010.
They desperately hope that’s Wilson, the 22-year-old out of BYU with a bazooka for an arm who shook off a shaky first half Sunday to go 14-for-21 for 174 yards and two TDs in the second half, showing dynamic pocket awareness and ability to escape in the process (he was sacked six times and hit 10 more times).
“The play is kind of never over when he’s got the ball in his hands,” Belichick said of Wilson, on WEEI radio in Boston. “He can get out of trouble, run. He can make all the throws, got a really good arm. He’s had a ton of production at BYU, so I’m sure that’ll translate to the NFL here over the course of his career.
“He’s a guy that we’re really going to have to do a good job on the long balls, the intermediate passes, the extended plays and his ability to run with the ball, as well. He’s got some good receivers, good targets and they’ll be opening at home. I’m sure it’ll be plenty of energy down there. We’ll have to match that and play a good football game.”
Jones was no slouch Sunday, either, something that didn’t surprise his former Alabama teammate, Jets defensive lineman Quinnen Williams.
“Man, Mac Jones is my brother from ’Bama,’’ Williams said. “Amazing person. I got to see him grow from a true freshman to what he is now. I’m not surprised to see him win the starting job. Mac is a competitor. You’ve got to remember, he had to sit behind Tua [Tagovailoa] and Jalen [Hurts]. He had to go through a lot of stuff to get where he is. He had to work hard.’’
Another era begins Sunday — between Belichick and Jets rookie head coach Robert Saleh, who’ll be coaching his first home game at MetLife Stadium. While Saleh (like Rex Ryan famously said a few years before him) surely has no interest in kissing Belichick’s rings, he showered him with praise.
“I don’t know [Belichick],’’ Saleh said. “I know of him, obviously. I think the whole world does. He’s one of the greatest of all time. His schemes, his personnel decisions, all of it has withstood the test of time.
“He’s won many, many different ways. He’s won without a quarterback, he’s won with quarterbacks, he does it all. So, it’s always a tremendous challenge to go against him and their schemes, both offensively and defensively, and special teams, for that matter.
“He’s been coaching the Patriots since I first started coaching, so to watch his legacy grow and the coach that he is it’s an honor to share the same field as him.’’
One day, Jets fans hope the honor will be Belichick’s for coaching on the same field as Saleh and coaching against Wilson.
Let the new era begin, and let it be long and rich with storylines.