A week after college teammates reunited in Foxborough as the first pair of ex-Alabama quarterbacks to start the same NFL game in 38 years, Sunday marks a matchup of current classmates in the Meadowlands.
Rookies Zach Wilson, selected second overall by the New York Jets, and Mac Jones, chosen by the Patriots with the 15th pick of the first round, share the same objective as opposites on the MetLife Stadium turf. Each is seeking his first pro win.
In his debut against Miami, Jones outperformed the player he succeeded in Tuscaloosa, Tua Tagovailoa, by most measures. Except for, of course, the one that matters most. A rash of New England mistakes, including a fumble by Damien Harris at the Dolphins’ 9-yard line with 3:31 left, and missed opportunities resulted in a 17-16 loss.
If there was a silver, red and blue lining, it was Jones’ composure and command of the offense. He completed 29-of-39 passes for 281 yards and a touchdown. Especially impressive was how he withstood Miami’s heat, absorbing nine hits and going 19-for-23 against the blitz.
Meanwhile, Wilson survived a 6-for-16 start, the loss of left tackle Mekhi Becton and the fierce pass rush of Carolina to produce a solid second half. Overall, he was sacked six times and pressured on 40 percent of his drop-backs, per The Athletic. Still, Wilson rebounded to complete 14-of-21 passes for 174 yards and two touchdowns in the final 30 minutes.
As two of three Week 1 rookie starting quarterbacks — the most since 2012 — Jones and Wilson were among five, overall, who threw a TD pass in their pro debuts. Like Mac and Zach, Trevor Lawrence, the other starter in the group for Jacksonville, and Justin Fields, who was used situationally for Chicago, did so in defeat. Only San Francisco’s Trey Lance recorded his NFL milestone in a victory.
Outcomes aside, Jones and Wilson earned respect and elicited similar summations at their respective team facilities in Foxborough and Florham Park. One could copy the remarks of Patriots elaborating on Jones’ competence and competitiveness and paste them in place of Jets praising Wilson. And vice versa.
“He had a lot of poise and obviously delivered the ball really well, sat in there in the pocket even when the pocket was coming down,” tight end Hunter Henry said of Jones on Wednesday. “He made some big-time throws that sometimes a lot of other guys aren’t going to make, just standing in the pocket and taking hits and different things like that.
“That shows a lot to us as guys — a guy that’s going to stand in there no matter what and deliver the ball.”
Meanwhile, New York receiver Corey Davis said, essentially, the same of Wilson.
“He’s a tough dude,” Davis told reporters, also on Wednesday. “Just to see him, how he reacted, there was no anger, no frustration, he was just poised…he showed a lot of heart.
“We want guys that play hard and that have no quit. And that’s what he is.”
As we look forward to Sunday’s 1 p.m. kickoff, let’s open the notebook by looking back.