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Jets Bench Zach Wilson, Mike White to Start Vs. Bears

By DENNIS WASZAK Jr., AP Pro Football Writer

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) — Zach Wilson has gone from being the future of the New York Jets franchise to an underachieving benchwarmer.

Coach Robert Saleh announced the decision Wednesday to sit Wilson and replace him with Mike White as the starting quarterback Sunday against the Chicago Bears.

“Zach’s career here is not over,” Saleh said, adding that the plan is to have the second-year quarterback “reset” with the hope Wilson plays again this season. “This is not putting a nail in his coffin.”

Joe Flacco will serve as White’s backup, and Wilson will not be active against the Bears.

Saleh didn’t commit Monday to having Wilson under center this week after the second-year quarterback’s dismal performance in the Jets’ 10-3 loss to the Patriots in New England. The No. 2 overall pick in the draft last year was 9 of 22 for a measly 77 yards with several wayward throws. The Jets managed just 2 total yards on seven possessions in the second half.

Wilson has taken a lot of criticism this week not only for his play on the field, but how he handled his postgame news conference. When asked if he thought he and the offense let down the defense — which sacked Mac Jones six times — Wilson replied curtly: “No. No.”

It appeared to be a lack of accountability and rubbed some inside the Jets’ locker room the wrong way. Rookie wide receiver Garrett Wilson vented after the game, without using names, saying the offense had a “sorry” performance and “hopefully, this is a wakeup for some people in the facility.”

Saleh acknowledged there might have been “a little irritation,” but insisted Wilson’s comments had no bearing on the decision. Saleh said Wilson addressed the team, but declined to share details.

But Saleh’s lack of commitment on Monday to Wilson remaining the starter was the first sign of the Jets possibly wavering on their view of the quarterback being the long-term solution. The main focus for the franchise entering this season was Wilson’s continued development.

Wilson is 5-2 this season as the starter of the Jets, who are off to a surprising 6-4 start and in the middle of the playoff hunt. But he has struggled with consistency and not shown the progress expected of him. Wilson has just four touchdown passes and five interceptions in seven starts.

Flacco, who started the first three games while Wilson was sidelined with a knee injury, still leads the Jets with five TD throws despite not having played since Sept. 25.

Flacco was dropped to No. 3 on the team’s depth chart a few weeks ago, with White passing him on the depth chart as Wilson’s immediate backup.

“He’s more than capable of getting it done,” offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur said of White.

White briefly became a bit of a folk hero for the Jets last season during a four-game stretch that included three starts — and one that landed his jersey and a game ball in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Making his first NFL start against Cincinnati on Oct. 31, 2021, in place of an injured Wilson, White completed 37 of 45 passes for 405 yards and three touchdowns with two interceptions in a 34-31 victory.

White joined Cam Newton (2011) as the only quarterbacks since 1950 to pass for at least 400 yards in their first career start. White’s 37 completions were the most by a player in his first start.

He injured his right forearm early in his next start and was forced out of the Jets’ 45-30 loss at Indianapolis. White made the start in New York’s next game against Buffalo, but was intercepted four times in the 45-17 loss. He hasn’t taken a snap in a regular-season game since.

White was a fifth-round pick by Dallas in 2018 out of Western Kentucky. New York signed him to its practice squad the following season.

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