PHILADELPHIA — All that was ever going to matter for the Jets this season was the quarterback.
Zach Wilson was all that mattered. Everything revolved around his progress.
In his second season after a rough rookie year, Wilson was the linchpin to anything the Jets were hoping to accomplish in 2022.
Sure, there were a few dozen other Jets being evaluated Friday night in their preseason opener against the Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field — a thoroughly-inconsequential 24-21 Jets comeback win.
But Wilson was the only player who really mattered.
Everyone was waiting to see at least small signs of improvement from him between Year One and Year Two, and Friday night was poised to provide an early glimpse.
But now, after the concerning non-contact injury Wilson sustained to his right knee on his ninth play from scrimmage, Wilson’s Year Two may be over before it began — though sources told The Post the Jets are hopeful his injury will only cause him to miss weeks rather than months.
Nevertheless, a Jets season that already carried with it more questions than an SAT exam is in doubt, if not outright peril.
After the game, head coach Robert Saleh was careful not to be overly optimistic.
“I’m always concerned until you get the final evaluation,” said Saleh, who added the ACL is still intact based on first tests but said the MRI exam will tell the story. “We’ve walked off the field with very positive thoughts, and it’s been opposite. We’ve walked off the field with bad initial readings and it’s been the opposite. I’m just going to let it play out and we’ll see [Saturday].
“I just want to let it all play out and I’ll keep saying my nightly prayers and let’s see what happens.”
Despite the fact that Wilson was in the locker room after the game (but not when reporters were admitted), the Jets inexplicably declined to make him available.
Last season, when Wilson injured his PCL in a game at New England, he was made available to speak to reporters. Clearly, the fact the team shielded him from reporters was a sure sign that the news is not good.
“He’s in good spirits. He’s fine,” Saleh said, putting on a brave face to it all. “A little frustrated, obviously, but he’s as good as you can be in the situation.”
The Jets’ 2022 season flashed before their disbelieving eyes with 4:02 remaining in the first quarter when Wilson got up limping after a scramble and eventually fell to the turf as team trainers rushed to his aid.
That kind of sequence — the player able to walk for a moment before realizing the knee is too loose to continue — more often than not signals a torn ACL.
That would be the worst case scenario. A Jets case scenario. Here we go again. The Jets are in crisis yet again.
Wilson had just completed a crisp 10-yard slant pass to Elijah Moore on third down when, on a first-and-10 from the Jets 42-yard line, he was flushed from the pocket to his right by Eagles defenders Tarron Jackson and Jordan Davis.
He outran both of them and was staring down Eagles rookie linebacker Nakobe Dean in the open field near the right sideline. Instead of just cruising out of bounds to live to play another down, Wilson tried to juke Dean with an inside move to gain a few extra (meaningless) yards.
Sometimes, great athletic ability, which Wilson possesses, can be a curse.
Something bad happened inside his right knee joint when he made that move and Wilson’s night — and possibly his season — was over.
When Saleh was asked whether Wilson should have simply run out of bounds, he quickly responded, “A hundred percent.”
Within minutes, Twitter was alive with medical experts diagnosing Wilson’s injury after simply watching it on TV.
There, too, were armchair general managers flooding social media projecting next-step quarterback ideas for Jets GM Joe Douglas in the event Wilson’s injury is, indeed, season-ending. Jimmy Garoppolo’s name started trending. One snide Twitter jokester even suggested the Jets acquire Sam Darnold for a second go-round in green.
Asked what the next step is if this is, indeed, season ending, Saleh said: “Can we wait until after we get the MRI results before we start talking about that? I don’t want to put that negative juice in there.”
When asked about 37-year-old backup quarterback Joe Flacco, Saleh said: “You guys know how I feel about Joe. He’s a phenomenal football player. He’s having a great camp and he’s got a lot of juice left in the tank.”
Saleh said before the game the plan was to play Wilson and the rest of the starters for a series or two.
“If they put together a good first series, we’ll call it a day,” Saleh said. “If not, we’ll just go out there and try to get a certain number of plays.”
The first series, of course, was an abject failure with Wilson intercepted on his fifth play from scrimmage. Then Wilson made it through just four plays in second series — possibly the final four plays of his 2022 season.
Now, the Jets only can hope that isn’t the case.