CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Twenty-three weeks after Jets general manager Joe Douglas decided to trade quarterback Sam Darnold to the Panthers, the Jets will face their former would-be savior.
The NFL schedule-makers had a sense of humor pitting the Jets against Darnold in Week 1. It is a delicious storyline that makes the start of the NFL season even more interesting.
Darnold downplayed the matchup against the team that drafted him No. 3 overall in 2018, saying it is just another week.
“My job is to go out there and play good football, and that’s all I’m thinking about,” Darnold told reporters here.
Three weeks after trading Darnold, Douglas drafted his replacement, taking Zach Wilson out of BYU with the No. 2-overall pick. For Jets fans, this is the quarterback of the present versus the quarterback of the past. But Wilson said he is not focusing on outdueling Darnold in his first NFL start.
“That’s definitely not something I think about,” Wilson said. “He’s doing his own thing now, he’s got a great situation going for him. I think the organization already decided to go one way, and it’s not because Sam’s not a good football player, it’s just they wanted a fresh start. So, I’m happy for him and it’s a new situation for me. That’s not even something that crosses my mind. It’s just how can I continually get better every single day, prepare to do the right things on Sunday. How can I help our team win football games?”
Wilson has passed every test the Jets put in front of him this summer, but now things get real. The games count and he will be facing an opposing team’s starting defense for the first time. Add in the emotions of his first game, and this could be a challenging day for the 22-year-old Wilson.
Coach Robert Saleh, who is making his head-coaching debut, said he is not worried about Wilson getting caught up in the hype around facing Darnold.
“They don’t play against each other, right?” Saleh said. “They’re on the same side of the ball for different teams so they don’t actually face off with one another. This is about Zach, it’s about him, it’s about his process and it’s about him getting ready to play the best he possibly can and obviously his surrounding teammates to do the best they can and keep it in the moment, keep it about us and execute the best we can.”