Since 1962, the New York Jets and New England Patriots have had a longstanding rivalry in the AFC East division. Last Sunday, fans witnessed history in the making. Rookie starting quarterbacks Mac Jones and Zach Wilson faced off for the first time in East Rutherford, where they did something no other first-round draft picks have achieved.
Here’s a look at how the next generation of NFL players did on the field.
A rookie quarterback showdown
ESPN refers to the newfound rivalry between the rookie quarterbacks as the “Mac & Zach era.” The site said, “These aren’t just any rookies. They’re both first-round draft picks and are considered the long-term answers at the position.”
Wilson, out of Brigham Young University, was the second overall pick this year. In a news conference following Sunday’s game, New York Jets head coach Robert Saleh referred to the 22-year-old starting quarterback as an “electric dude” who’s “competitive as crap.”
New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick made a bold decision to release the 2015 NFL MVP, Cam Newton, to take a chance on Mac Jones, the promising young quarterback out of Alabama. Jones was the number 15 pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. The 23-year-old rookie starting quarterback, standing 6-foot-3 and weighing 217 pounds, is ready to compete in professional football.
Belichick, who began coaching the Patriots in 2000, has a 22-6 record against rookie quarterbacks. Wilson didn’t stand a chance.
Zach Wilson admits fans ‘should be booing’ after his weak performance
As the young players took the field this past September 19, tension was at an all-time high. It was only their second appearance in the NFL, and both had something to prove.
In last week’s season opener against the Miami Dolphins, the Patriots’ newest quarterback finished 29 of 39 for 281 yards for a completion rate of 74.4% and one touchdown. This week, playing against the Jets, Jones threw 22 of 30 for 186 yards earning his first NFL win.
Wilson did not fare as well, with a performance that left hometown fans in MetLife Stadium booing the Jets rookie quarterback during the fourth quarter when he missed a wide-open receiver. The BYU grad finished 19 of 33 for 210 yards, with a disappointing four interceptions.
The New York Post reported the young quarterback said, “They should be booing, right?” Contributing his poor performance to a “lack of rhythm,” he said, “When your first two passes are interceptions, it’s tough to find that rhythm.” The 23-year-old also blamed a “lack of execution,” admitting, “I’ve got to do better.”
The Patriots earned their first season win with a final score of 25 to 6 against the Jets. They’ll meet again on October 24 at Gillette Stadium. The Jets have not won in Foxborough against the Patriots since the 2010 AFC divisional playoffs.
It is rare to see a rookie starting quarterback
The rookie quarterback matchup marks the first time since 2015 that two first-round picks of the same draft class met in a game.
Jameis Winston was the number-one pick for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the 2015 NFL Draft. The gifted quarterback from Florida State is a team leader with a huge personality. The Tennessee Titans took Marcus Mariota as the second pick in the 2015 draft. With incredible speed and throwing accuracy, the Oregon State grad showed great potential.
The rookie starting quarterbacks faced off for the highly anticipated 2015 season opener. ESPN claimed Mariota “made it look as easy as he did in college.” The Heisman Trophy winner threw four touchdown passes, “outplaying No. 1 overall draft pick Jameis Winston in their NFL debuts.” The Titans secured a 42-14 win over the Buccaneers.
The Providence Journal reported it is “exceedingly rare to see a quarterback enter the league and take over.” A rookie starting quarterback has never made a Super Bowl appearance.
Jones now joins that shortlist, and with the support of Belichick, he might be in a position to obtain the best season record for a rookie quarterback in New England Patriots history.