Robert Saleh understandably wanted no part of the question on Wednesday.
The Jets coach has just gotten past the whole “keeping receipts” quote from last week and was not looking to create any more headlines … so when asked if there is any scenario where Joe Flacco can keep the starting quarterback job once Zach Wilson is healthy, Saleh gave an answer that sounded like he practiced it in front of a mirror before his press conference.
“Zach’s the future of the organization. We all know that,” Saleh said. “As soon as the doctors clear him, we’ll get him on the field.”
Really? Has Wilson earned the right to have the starting job handed back to him?
Saleh surely does not want to deal in hypotheticals, but we do. Let’s play this out a little bit. Flacco goes out Sunday and has another 300-yard, four-touchdown performance and the Jets beat the Bengals to improve to 2-1. You’re telling me Monday morning, Saleh is taking the keys out of Flacco’s hands?
I wouldn’t. Saleh should ride the hot hand and that is Flacco.
Now, the scenario I laid out is unlikely. The Jets are an underdog against a desperate 0-2 Bengals team on Sunday. But what if? What if Flacco does it again? What if the Jets pull off another shocker?
Saleh should then come out Monday and say Wilson’s surgically repaired knee needs another week of rest and Flacco will start Week 4 against the Steelers. Keep going until Flacco’s 37-year-old wheels fall off.
No one is saying Flacco looked like Aaron Rodgers last week. But there was some magic at the end of the game. Sure, the Browns handed the Jets a chance they should have never had, but Flacco made the most of that opportunity. He hit a wide-open Corey Davis on a 66-yard touchdown pass and then executed a masterful final touchdown drive after the onside kick.
Everyone calls Flacco “Joe Cool” and it was on display on that final drive. He looked like he was in total control and was a calming presence for a young team.
“I think Joe’s a really good quarterback. He’s seen everything,” Saleh said. “[By] the fourth quarter, the game plan has already been revealed. They know how they’re playing everything. When we got that onside kick, he knew exactly where he needed to go with the ball because he already knew what was going to happen. The great ones can see that so in those fourth quarters when you have a good quarterback who’s armed with all the knowledge he needs, that’s hard.”
Could Wilson have led the Jets back? Maybe. But he does not have the knowledge that Saleh spoke about. Flacco has been there and done that. Wilson has one fourth-quarter comeback on his résumé. Sunday was Flacco’s 19th. Sunday was the 37th time Flacco has thrown for 300 yards in an NFL game. Wilson has yet to hit that mark.
The postgame reaction from Flacco’s teammates show how much they love the man many watched star for the Ravens when they were children. In the video the Jets tweeted out Flacco was in the middle of the room, surrounded by jumping Jets and you could see how popular he is in the locker room.
But it was not just the magic of Sunday’s comeback. Flacco has played well when given time by the offensive line and the receivers don’t drop passes. PFF has him rated as the third-best quarterback in the NFL, trailing just Josh Allen and Jalen Hurts. They have credited him with zero turnover-worthy plays. He is third in the NFL with 616 passing yards.
Will it last for a season, a month, two more weeks? Who knows? But Saleh owes it to the Jets players, coaches, front office, owners and fan to find out.
So, is there any chance Flacco can stay in the job?
“I don’t want to be a broken record,” Saleh said. “I’ll be happy to answer that question a million times over when Zach is healthy and ready to go. Zach is the future of the team.”
No one is going to argue that the 23-year-old is not the future. But that does not mean the 37-year-old, if he continues to play well, can’t be the present.