Bill vs. Zach I was a mismatch from the start.
On both a competitiveness and shock-value scale, Patriots coach and defensive savant Bill Belichick played the part of Mike Tyson and Jets rookie quarterback Zach Wilson was Michael Spinks in the 1988 heavyweight fight at Convention Hall in Atlantic City.
It took 91 seconds for Tyson to knock Spinks out that night.
That’s about how long it took for Belichick and his Patriots defense to knock Wilson and the Jets out on Sept. 19 at MetLife Stadium. Wilson’s second career NFL start featured interceptions on his first two passes and a third on his fifth throw. By day’s end, Wilson had thrown four interceptions.
That 25-6 New England win over the Jets moved Belichick’s career record against rookie quarterbacks to an impressive 22-6. In those 28 games, the opposing rookie quarterbacks have thrown 20 TD passes and 41 INTs.
In the past six games against rookie quarterbacks, Belichick’s defenses have allowed an average of just 9.5 points per game. And those games came against top-10 draft picks Justin Herbert, Josh Allen, Daniel Jones, Sam Darnold, Tua Tagovailoa and, of course, Wilson.
On Sunday at Gillette Stadium, Wilson gets a second shot at Belichick and the Patriots, and listening to him after practice on Thursday you hardly got the impression that Wilson remained rattled by that game or that he has any apprehension about this one.
“Just like it was the first time we played them, everything’s a steppingstone,’’ Wilson said. “We’re building something here that’s going to be special for a long time. When it’s going to be super-special, we don’t know, but all we have to focus on is one step at a time, throwing those bricks down and getting better. I’m excited to play these guys again. I think it’s going to be a blast.’’
Based on what Belichick’s defenses have done to rookie quarterbacks, “a blast’’ might be a bit optimistic.
Ask Herbert, whose Chargers lost 45-0 to the Patriots in his rookie year last season as he was 26-of-53 for 209 yards with two INTs, was sacked three times and had a passer rating of 43.7.
Ask Jones, who was 15-of-31 for 161 yards with one TD and three INTs with a career-low 35.2 passer rating in a 35-14 loss in 2019, his rookie season.
Ask Darnold, who was 16-of-28 for 167 yards and was sacked four times in a 38-3 loss his rookie year in 2018.
Ask Allen, who was 20-of-41 for 217 yards, one TD and two INTs in a 24-12 loss in 2018.
Belichick has never lost to a rookie quarterback at Gillette Stadium, 13-0 and counting.
“The numbers, they don’t lie,’’ Jets offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur said Thursday. “[Belichick’s] track record speaks for itself. He is, in my opinion, the best ever. I’ve got a lot of respect for him. [But] it’s going to come down to us. We’ve got to worry about ourselves first — particularly with where we’re at on offense right now.’’
Which is not good, ranked last in the NFL in points scored with a paltry 13.7 per game, and 30th in yards per game.
As much as Belichick’s defense had a big day in that first meeting, LaFleur also was outcoached by his New England counterpart, Josh McDaniels, who designed a much simpler plan for his rookie quarterback, Mac Jones, than LaFleur had for Wilson.
Jones was asked to throw shorter, higher-percentage passes to get him in a rhythm while Wilson threw the ball downfield much more often, making himself vulnerable to the aggressive Belichick man-coverage defense.
“They just cause a lot of chaos,’’ Wilson said. “They do a good job of disrupting timing and getting guys off of what you want to do. They’re an aggressive team that tries to throw off the timing of me and the receivers. That’s something that we’ve been working on, looking to get better at.’’
The biggest lesson learned by Wilson from the last game?
“Understanding what situations are worth taking a chance [and] how can I decide what I feel like is an aggressively smart play?’’ Wilson said. “That’s what this week is about: How can I put my team in the best position to win this game.’’
If he’s successful in Bill vs. Zach II, Wilson will have helped the Jets move into a tie with the Patriots at 2-4 and drop Belichick’s record against rookie quarterbacks to 22-7.
And those would be signs of the significant progress every Jets fan craves right now from their prized rookie quarterback.