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Zach Wilson-Trevor Lawrence can still develop into compelling rivalry




Zach Wilson-Trevor Lawrence can still develop into compelling rivalry

The good news of sorts for Jets fans — ’tis the season, right? — is that the opposing quarterback on Sunday, fella named Trevor Lawrence, hasn’t exactly lit it up during a rookie season when he couldn’t know for certain whether his head coach would make the team flight home from a road game or get his kicks in other misguided ways. 

Tanking for Trevor was a thing a year ago, and of course the Jets couldn’t get it right enough to land everybody’s next generational quarterback prospect, which led them (general manager Joe Douglas, head coach Robert Saleh) to fall in love with one Zach Wilson. 

Wilson hasn’t exactly lit it up either during a season when he heard MetLife Stadium chant “Mike White, Mike White, Mike White” and with Saleh forced to become his virtual head coach this week because of COVID-19. 

Perhaps one far away day — Playoffs? Playoffs? PLAYOFFS? — Trevor versus Zach will be the kind of rivalry that Eli Manning versus Ben Roethlisberger grew into … Big Ben being the quarterback Ernie Accorsi would have drafted if he couldn’t have made that blockbuster trade on draft day with the Chargers for Eli Manning. 

Manning had been the No. 1-overall pick and Big Ben the No. 11 pick, and even though they never met in the Super Bowl, each has two rings. 

Trevor versus Zach on the day after Christmas is hardly that type of heavyweight showdown. But when you are left with 2-12 Jaguars versus 3-11 Jets, it is the game within the game that becomes the marquee attraction. 

Zach Wilson throws at Jets practice Thursday.
Zach Wilson throws at Jets practice Thursday.
Bill Kostroun/New York Post

Zach versus Mac Jones will be the most compelling rivalry because those are Bill Belichick and the Patriots intent on continuing their torment of the Jets. 

But Trevor versus Zach — best-case scenario — will have a puncher’s chance to be the very best rivalry between quarterbacks drafted 1-2 … if Zach holds up his end of the bargain and blossoms into who and what the Jets believe he will become. 

Better than Jim Plunkett-Archie Manning (1971). 

Better than Drew Bledsoe-Rick Mirer (1993). 

Better than Tim Couch-Donovan McNabb (1999). 

Better than Andrew Luck-RGIII (2012). 

Better than Jameis Winston-Marcus Mariota (2015). 

And if it isn’t any better than Peyton Manning versus Ryan Leaf (1998), that would be the absolute worst-case scenario for the Jets and their faithful. 

Because few are afraid to mention the young Trevor in the same breath as the young Peyton. Like Peyton, Trevor has been The Chosen One from before he even entered high school. 

“It’s tough to obviously come from nothing in my situation, but I think it’s almost harder to come from a situation where no matter where you’ve been, people have labeled you as the best,” Zach said. “He’s done an amazing job of not listening to the noise, and the expectation’s never gotten too high for him, and he just handled his own business. Obviously I knew who he was for a long time. I’m sure he probably didn’t know who I was, but that’s part of it.” 

Of course Trevor knows who he is now. 

“It’s not like me against him,” Zach said. “We can both have success. Yes, do I want our team to beat the Jaguars? Yeah, I do. I hope to go out there and play well. But I don’t look at it as me versus Trevor or my stats versus Trevor. … It’s not like we’re fighting for a starting position on the same team. We can cheer each other on which is really cool.” 

Trevor (9 TDs, 14 INTs) has thrown one touchdown pass across his past seven games. And it bothers him. 

Trevor Lawrence is sacked during the Jaguars' 30-16 loss to the Texans.
Trevor Lawrence is sacked during the Jaguars’ 30-16 loss to the Texans.
Getty Images

“I look at that and I hate seeing that just because that means we’re not scoring a lot of points,” he said on Wednesday. “It’d be different if we were scoring points still in the run game or whatever it is. If we’re still able to win games, that’s fine. That’s my job is to try to win games. But when you see that and you’re not scoring points, those kind of go hand in hand. It’s disappointing and it’s something that we’re definitely trying to work on. We need to be more productive. … We have to do it and that starts with me.” 

Zach (6 TDs, 11 INTs) has not thrown an interception in his past two games. 

“I think it’s just an understanding of the offense. Understanding how important it is to take care of the ball … just better decisions,” Zach said. 

And playing more freely within the structure of offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur’s offense. 

“Trust your instinct,” Zach said. 

With all the chaos that has swirled around Trevor and Zach, it is encouraging that neither has flinched. Zach won’t have WRs Corey Davis and Elijah Moore on Sunday and LT Mekhi Becton seems like a distant memory and LG Alijah Vera-Tucker (not to mention Saleh) are on the COVID list. LaFleur mentioned the absence of continuity that Zach has endured and said: “It hasn’t bothered him at all.” 

Trevor and Zach got a better feel for each other at combine training. 

“He’s a great dude,” Zach said. “Just a cool guy to be around. It’s going to be a fun matchup just because we’re going to be playing in the league from the start of the same time for hopefully a long time, so it’s going to be cool just to follow his career and to be able to match up against those guys. I just hope he does well, and I always hope the best for him.” 

Trevor-Zach I.


Sports world reacts to John Madden’s death




Sports world reacts to John Madden’s death

Legendary NFL coach and broadcaster John Madden died Tuesday morning at 85, the NFL announced. News of the football icon’s passing hit Twitter on Tuesday evening, and athletes, coaches and broadcasters from across the sports world reacted.

Fellow broadcasting legend Dick Vitale, who is currently battling cancer, called Madden “the greatest analyst of all time of any sport” in his Twitter tribute.

Former Yankees pitcher and notable Raiders fan CC Sabathia said “your legacy will live forever.” Madden coached the then-Oakland Raiders from 1969-78, a couple of years before Sabathia, a Vallejo, California native, was born. Lakers star LeBron James had similar words about Madden’s lasting legacy, adding an infinity emoji.

Former tennis star and social justice activist Billie Jean King recalled meeting Madden as a “privilege.”

Radio voice of the Rangers Kenny Albert, a five-sport broadcaster who’s been with FOX Sports since its inception in 1994, shared a photo circa 26 years ago to remember Madden.

ESPN’s Bomani Jones took a bit of a shot at current color commentators, noting that Madden “set an unreachable standard.”

Frank Caliendo, who’s made a career out of impersonations, including one for Madden, said he was surprised how emotional he felt.

Several football players, and others, including Saints running back Mark Ingram II and former Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant, credited Madden with being part of the reason why they love football.

Rams wide receiver and NFL MVP contender Cooper Kupp quote the late coach in his tribute: “The road to Easy Street goes through the sewer.”

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Miles McBride’s Knicks role will lessen with Kemba Walker’s resurgence




Miles McBride’s Knicks role will lessen with Kemba Walker’s resurgence

MINNEAPOLIS — The Knicks got back another body in rookie point guard Miles McBride, who was cleared from protocols Tuesday and rejoined the team in Minnesota.

But there is no longer any hype for the rookie’s return. Kemba Walker is back as the starting point guard and coming off winning Eastern Conference Player of the Week honors with four standout games, including his Christmas Day spectacular. The Knicks have gone 2-2 since Walker regained the starting job.

“It’s great,’’ coach Tom Thibodeau said. “He had a great week. He’s playing great basketball. The team winning helps him get recognized and he was a big part of driving that winning. It’s great for the team.’’

McBride was also spectacular in his last outing before getting COVID-19, when he played the entire second half Dec. 16 in Houston and seemingly earned a spot in the rotation. In fact, McBride had strung together two decent outings before he was ruled out. But things have changed since his emergence and McBride is likely back to being a bit player.

Without a practice, McBride wasn’t even expected to see time when the Knicks faced the Timberwolves to kick off a four-game road trip.

Miles McBride
NBAE via Getty Images

Of course, with Walker’s arthritic knee, anything is possible. The Knicks play Detroit on Wednesday in a back-to-back, so it’s uncertain whether Walker will complete both contests. In addition, Immanuel Quickley is out of COVID-19 protocols but Thibodeau wasn’t sure he was ready for meaningful minutes.

That left Walker against the depleted Timberwolves, who were missing their three top players (Anthony Edwards, Karl-Anthony Towns, D’Angelo Russell), all because of COVID-19 .

Kemba Walker
Kemba Walker

When McBride got sidelined by the virus and Derrick Rose needed ankle surgery, Walker was resurrected by Thibodeau and it’s been a stunning comeback story.

Though Thibodeau has clear reservations about Walker based on his nine-game banishment due to his defensive malaise as an undersized point guard, he admitted after the Christmas Day triple-double against Atlanta that Walker is playing “much more aggressive.”

Walker’s triple-double that featured 10 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds was a lot different than his prior outing, when he scored 44 points against Washington.

“I thought his passing was terrific,’’ Thibodeau said before the Knicks resumed their schedule.

“Kemba had control of the game. The game tells you what to do. That’s what I loved about the way he played. I don’t think he forced anything. They puts size on him and were aggressive in their pick-and-roll coverage. He didn’t fight it. He attacked pressure the way you like to attack pressure. You don’t fight pressure with pressure. Don’t try to split it. Get rid of it, go to the backside. Let the game tell you what to do.’’

The Knicks coach is finally seeing all the elements of what Walker can do. Before his demotion, Walker was nothing more than a no-defense, 3-point shooter whose plus-minus was an abysmal minus-122.

Thibodeau was also concerned about his durability in sitting out two of the three back-to-back sets. The last load management game in Atlanta in late November triggered Thibodeau’s decision.

But now it’s only superlatives from Thibodeau in judging the last four games.

“Sometimes it’s going to be his shooting, sometimes it’s his penetration and getting in the paint to force a collapse and sometimes they’re being aggressive with their traps get rid of the ball quickly,’’ Thibodeau said. “The overall play, his rebounding. When your guards rebound, those are key to fast breaks. The more guard rebounding we get the better we can be. ‘’

The Knicks still have three players in protocols — centers Nerlens Noel and Jericho Sims and the newly infected Wayne Selden. Quickley and Kevin Knox were cleared on Christmas but were held out for conditioning.

No matter. The Knicks go as Kemba goes.

“He’s much more aggressive,’’ Thibodeau said. “That was the challenge. At the beginning of the year he and Evan were two new starters. Sometimes guys are trying to fit in. he’s being very aggressive which is the way we want him to play. Not deferring at all. When he and Julius [Randle] are aggressive like that our team is different.’’

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Bar raises dramatically for Zach Wilson in matchup with Tom Brady, Buccaneers




Zach Wilson and Tom Brady

When Zach Wilson stares across the MetLife Stadium field at the opposite sideline this Sunday, it won’t be Trevor Lawrence he’ll be looking at as his game-day counterpart.

Lawrence, drafted by Jacksonville one spot before the Jets selected Wilson at No. 2 overall last April, is a contemporary.

This Sunday at MetLife, the Jets rookie quarterback won’t be staring at a contemporary on the other sideline. He’ll be staring at the GOAT.

Tom Brady.

The bar raises dramatically for Wilson and the Jets, who are coming off of their feel-good, get-well win over the woeful Jaguars and Lawrence this past Sunday.

Brady and Buccaneers, who are 11-4, NFC South division champions and seeking to repeat as Super Bowl champions, play the Jets, who are 4-11 and seeking more signs of development from their rookie quarterback.

To say this is a step up in competition for Wilson and the Jets going from Lawrence and the Jags to Brady and the Bucs is as obvious as pointing out that Tampa Bay receiver Antonio Brown has had a few off-the-field incidents during his otherwise stellar NFL career.

There hasn’t been a lot to keep the interest of the Jets fan this season — other than watching Wilson’s development. That took an unfortunate pause for the four games Wilson missed with a knee injury, but he’s been back for five games and has looked like a better quarterback, throwing only two interceptions in those games (none in the last three) since returning from his injury.

The problem, though, is that Wilson hasn’t been producing enough touchdowns, throwing for three of them and rushing for four others in the past five games.

Zach Wilson and Tom Brady
Zach Wilson and Tom Brady
N.Y. Post: Charles Wenzelberg; AP

Baby steps, though.

Wilson was the better quarterback this past Sunday when matched up with Lawrence, who threw for more yards than Wilson did, but Wilson ran for 91 yards, including his electric 52-yard scoring jaunt, and made key throws when he needed them.

Wilson will not win Sunday’s game against Brady and the Bucs throwing for the 102 yards he had against the Jaguars. He and the Jets will need more.

Consider this: Brady enters the game having thrown 37 TD passes and for 4,580 yards this season and averages a league-high 305.2 passing yards per game.

Then this: The Buccaneers average 29.5 points per game this season, second most in the NFL.

And this: Wilson doesn’t have a single 300-yard passing game, averages 183 passing yards per game and has thrown seven TD passes in 11 games.

Seven TD passes is a pedestrian two-game total for Brady.

Wilson and the Jets are playing with house money anyway in what always has been a developmental season, so Sunday against Brady should, at its very least, be a great measuring-stick learning experience for Wilson, who’s studied Brady on tape.

Wilson revealed this month that he watched film of Brady before the Jets played the Eagles on Dec. 5 in an effort to pick up tips on how Brady worked against the Eagles defense when he played them earlier in the season.

“I thought it was really cool to see kind of how he went through his whole process, how he navigated the pocket, different things like that,” Wilson said at the time.

On Sunday, Wilson gets to see that process up close as Brady tries to dissect a Jets defense that has yielded 29.9 points per game this season, the most in the NFL.

That puts an added onus on Wilson to produce on the other side of the ball, because he knows Brady is going to get his. Wilson will likely need to produce four TDs — any way he can — for the Jets to simply remain competitive with the Super Bowl champs.

That’s a lot to ask of a 22-year-old kid who’s produced just 11 TDs in his 11 starts, up against Brady, who’s thrown 618 TD passes and for 83,784 yards in his remarkable career.

It, too, is a lot to ask playing against an aggressive Tampa Bay defense that’s ranked No. 9 in the NFL in points allowed (20.8 per game) and is led by former Jets head coach Todd Bowles, who’d surely like to send a holiday message to his former employer.

If you don’t think Bowles will be blitzing the bejesus out of Wilson, then you probably think Antonio Brown is a living saint.

The good news for the Jets is that Wilson has shown incremental improvements, particularly when it comes to his decision-making and quicker releases on his throws.

“He’s coming along, he’s getting more comfortable, he’s calmer back there,’’ Jets coach Robert Saleh said Monday. “He’s in a great headspace and it’s going to be fun to watch him grow, continue to grow.’’

A big part of that growth will take place this Sunday as he watches the GOAT operate from the opposite sideline at MetLife.

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