Let’s look at the question this way:
What would’ve happened to Bernie Taupin if Reg Dwight had been a teacher in his hometown of Pinner, England, instead of becoming Elton John, global music phenomenon who took Taupin’s remarkable lyrics and paired them with his own extraordinary melodies?
What might’ve become of Art Garfunkel if his boyhood pal, Paul Simon, had decided to go to law school rather than write “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” or any of the other timeless songs that have allowed Garfunkel’s signature tenor voice to serve as a soundtrack to multiple generations?
To the point at hand:
What if Garrett Wilson never finds the quarterback that can ever allow the world to see the true lengths of the splendid gifts he possesses as a wide receiver? What if he — and, by association, we — are treated only to the occasional glimpse, the periodic tease, the intermittent hint of the full range of his talents?
What if Lennon never met McCartney?
“From the outside looking in, it’s easy to play the quarterback blame game. Honestly, that’s the world we live in, where you look at the top man — the head man, the quarterback, the one who makes the money — and then point the finger. But all of us internally know that we all have to take the right steps and get better.”
That was Garrett Wilson early Sunday evening inside the visiting dressing room at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, and that is about all the evidence you need to know that Wilson is as good a teammate as he is a receiver.
Wilson was targeted eight times that afternoon against the Cowboys by his quarterback, Zach Wilson, in a 30-10 Jets loss. The ball reached him only twice (with one drop). Once was on a nifty crossing route that wound up being a 68-yard touchdown catch-and-run that, for the only time all day, silenced the 93,689 people crammed into Jerry World.
That made two highlight-reel-worthy scoring hook-ups in two weeks for the Wilsons, both of them showcases for what Garrett is capable of doing: blinding, breakaway speed against Dallas, and a hard-to-believe tip-to-himself-and-catch grab that tied the Bills game six days earlier. This as an encore to his Offensive Rookie of the Year debut.
And yet …
And yet. There is — can only be — wonder of what else we might be able to see if only Garrett Wilson had been given a chance to become Aaron Rodgers’ favorite target. There were always going to be worries about Rodgers, even apart from the injury concern that wound up being a self-fulfilling prophesy: his age; his mobility; his reputation — despite coming across on “Hard Knocks” as America’s Last Good Guy — for chronic irascibility.
But one thing was clear, above all of that: Even at age 39, Rodgers threw as pretty a ball as has ever been thrown in the NFL, and Wilson was going to explode because of it. The “Hard Knocks” cameras saw it. The folks who flocked to Florham Park for preseason practice saw it. Everyone else saw it in Rodgers’ brief cameo against the Giants in the exhibition finale.
Now, who knows if we’ll ever see it.
Which leaves Zach Wilson, and the relentless hope of eternal optimists that some week soon the light will click on for good and the third-year QB will stop looking like a guy trying to do advanced trigonometry in his head whenever he drops back in the pocket (or, like Sunday, flees it) and instead reduces the game to its simplest core, and its easiest question:
How do I get the football to my best player?
That, as much as anything, is the mission that will determine if the Jets can spin out of difficult circumstances and stay relevant or spin out of control like a top in an oil puddle. The defense should still be fine; the Cowboys seem likely to humble and humiliate a lot of proud defenses. The running game should be fine assuming offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett remembers that he actually has running backs — and good ones — on his roster, and actually chooses to use them.
But Wilson-to-Wilson is harder to figure. That, too, lies partially on Hackett’s shoulders — he has to figure out a way to get the ball in Garrett’s hands more than the seven times that’s happened in two weeks. It’s not just counterproductive, it’s downright criminal to have that blinding a talent and use it as sporadically as the Jets have.
But Hackett can’t deliver the ball to Garrett. That’s on Zach. If we can agree that the offensive line in front of him isn’t yet destined to earn the nickname “Hogs 2.0,” the fact is that the skill positions surrounding him are filled with names eager to take the ball from him and make him look better. He just has to actually get the ball to them — to Breece Hall and Dalvin Cook, to Allen Lazard and Randall Cobb and Tyler Conklin.
And Garrett Wilson, most of all. It’s early in the season. It’s early in the career. But already you can sense that if Wilson doesn’t find the right sidekick, and soon, he has an air of Archie Manning about him, of Shohei Ohtani, of Patrick Ewing, stars who went — or are still going through — careers that silently pleaded and begged for a wingman.
Wingmen who never did arrive.