NFL

'Zach doesn't flinch' – Saleh credits returning Wilson after Jets see off Steelers

By Sports Desk October 03, 2022

New York Jets head coach Robert Saleh lauded returning quarterback Zach Wilson following Sunday's 24-20 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The Jets looked set for a third loss of the season when Steelers rookie Kenny Pickett scored two rushing touchdowns to hand the hosts a 20-10 second-half lead in Pennsylvania.

However, the first-round draft pick threw three interceptions as the Jets had the last laugh, with Breece Hall sealing victory when he ran for a two-yard touchdown with 16 seconds remaining.

Wilson – featuring for the first time since he suffered a knee injury in the Jets' preseason opener – was crucial to their revival, completing 10 of his 12 passes for 128 yards and a touchdown in a brilliant fourth quarter.

Speaking after the win, Saleh hailed Wilson's ability to handle pressure, declaring: "Zach doesn't flinch.

"I'm sure there were a couple of plays he wishes he had back. But he got us out of a lot of bad situations with his mobility. I thought he played a pretty good game, [for] his first game back."

Wilson himself, meanwhile, was delighted by the Jets' late show, adding: "All the ups and downs of trying to overcome adversity, it was just such a good win.

"I think there was so much growth those last two minutes as an offense, executing a drive as clean as it was and punching it in. It was just awesome

"It's just the NFL, man. We had some good things early, we scored, then things got stalled out. 

"My mentality is just keep doing my job, keep chipping away. That was my message and that's what everybody did. 

"There was some frustration, but it was the right frustration. That was a cool opportunity for us to lose a lead like that and come all the way back for the win."

Asked whether he was convinced the Jets would get over the line on their decisive late drive, Wilson added: "Yeah, 100 per cent from the beginning. 

"I think there was no doubt in our minds, especially when I hit a couple of quick passes, we hit a couple of runs as an offense. You could just feel it."

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    Zlatko Dalic stressed that staying disciplined will be crucial if Croatia are to defeat Japan and reach the World Cup quarter-finals.

    Croatia, runners-up in Group F behind Morocco, face Japan on Monday in the last 16.

    Japan were the shock victors of Group E in Qatar, having claimed 2-1 victories over Germany and Spain either side of a 1-0 loss to Costa Rica.

    Runners-up to France in 2018, Croatia have only lost two of their eight knockout stage games at the World Cup (W4 D2), while Japan have never progressed beyond the last 16.

    Hajime Moriyasu's team have shown their quality against top sides, however, and Dalic knows his team must stay regimented if they are to avoid an upset.

    "Spain might have thought it was going to be easier, but Japan are a team that do not quit, as they showed against Germany as well," Dalic told reporters.

    "At some point, when Costa Rica were leading against Germany, Spain were out of the tournament, so they couldn't allow themselves to lose. Japan deserved to win.

    "Before the group stage, if we could choose an opponent in the next round, some people may have said Japan, but after seeing them beat Germany and Spain, they are anything but an easier opponent.

    "If you are first in a group with Germany and Spain, it shows your quality and that you are playing at a really high level. What I would say about the Japanese team is that they never quit. They conceded goals at the beginning of the match both against Germany and Spain, but they came back.

    "They had a lot of faith in themselves, and that is a great virtue of the Japan national team. For us, it will be key that we are also disciplined and patient. We cannot make mistakes, because Japan has the quality to punish those mistakes. We need to be good at falling back if we lose the ball."

    Croatia might have progressed from a group that also included Belgium and Canada, but failed to score in two of their matches – they had only drawn a blank in two of 13 matches at the tournament in the 2006, 2014 and 2018 editions combined.

    Dalic's side like to control possession, but that could play into Japan's hands. They averaged just 32.3 per cent of the ball across their three group stage games. Indeed, their two wins over Spain and Germany came with 17.7 per cent and 26.1 per cent possession respectively, while the one match they lost came when they had more of the ball against Costa Rica (56.8 per cent).

    PLAYERS TO WATCH

    Japan – Ritsu Doan

    Three of Japan's four goals scored have been scored by substitutes. Ritsu Doan has netted two of these. 

    Only three players have ever scored at least three goals as a substitute at a single World Cup – Andre Schurrle in 2014 (three), Roger Milla in 1990 (four), and Laszlo Kiss in 1982 (three).

    Croatia – Ivan Perisic

    Mateo Kovacic, Marcelo Brozovic and Luka Modric run the midfield for Croatia, but their attack is not quite as world-class.

    That being said, in Ivan Perisic they have a wide player more than capable of chipping in. The 33-year-old has scored nine goals at major tournaments, which is a joint record for Croatia along with Davor Suker.

    Perisic has also set up seven goals at either the Euros or the World Cup, a national record, and no Croatia player has had more shots so far in Qatar than his tally of five.

    PREDICTION

    This will be the third World Cup meeting between Japan and Croatia, with Japan winless and goalless in the previous two – a 1-0 defeat in 1998 and a goalless draw in 2006, both in the group stage. 

    Opta's model says the odds are against Japan, who are given a 26 per cent chance of progressing to the last eight. Croatia are the favourites (46.1 per cent).

    Do not be surprised to see this one go to extra-time, though – the draw is ranked at a 27.9 per cent chance.

  • Messi primed for World Cup glory after 'liberating' Copa America triumph, says Aguero Messi primed for World Cup glory after 'liberating' Copa America triumph, says Aguero

    Lionel Messi was liberated by winning last year's Copa America and is relishing his leading role in Argentina's World Cup bid, according to former team-mate Sergio Aguero.

    Messi scored his ninth World Cup goal – and his first in a knockout tie – as Argentina claimed a 2-1 victory over Australia on Saturday, teeing up a quarter-final meeting with the Netherlands.

    The seven-time Ballon d'Or winner's strike, a trademark left-footed finish after cutting inside from the right, also saw him surpass Diego Maradona's tally of eight World Cup goals for Argentina. Only Gabriel Batistuta (10) now has more for the country.

    Messi highlighted his "beautiful" bond with Argentina's supporters after the win, but Aguero believes that is a recent development, one which came about as a result of the Albiceleste ending a 28-year wait to win the Copa America last July.

    "Leo is going to do everything possible to achieve the goal that we all want," the former Argentina international told ESPN. 

    "Leo is happy and content. The Copa America changed his life, it gave him life. After the Copa America, he was happy again in the national team, like when we were in the under-20s.

    "He lived with criticism and lost finals for a long time. The Copa America was liberating for him."

    Prior to Argentina's triumph over hosts Brazil last year, Messi had suffered the ignominy of losing four major international finals, failing to help his team over the line at the 2014 World Cup or the 2007, 2015 and 2016 editions of the Copa America.

    Recalling that victory in Rio de Janeiro, Aguero said Brazil – who could meet Argentina in the World Cup semi-finals – would not relish a rematch.

    "If we made it to the quarter-finals, let me be excited," Aguero said. "Do you think that Brazil wants to meet Argentina in the semi-finals? 

    "Brazil has just lost the Copa America final, I think they don't want that match."

  • Deion Sanders leaves Jackson State to become head coach at Colorado Deion Sanders leaves Jackson State to become head coach at Colorado

    Deion Sanders is the new head coach of the Colorado Buffaloes, the NFL Hall of Famer leaving Jackson State to take charge of a moribund Power 5 program.

    Sanders' profile and coaching acumen has transformed Jackson State, turning the HBCU (Historically black colleges and universities) into a powerhouse in the FCS. 

    He helped Jackson State land the top recruit in the 2022 class, cornerback Travis Hunter, who flipped his commitment from Florida State and had offers from Alabama, Auburn, Clemson, Florida, Georgia, Michigan and Oklahoma. Hunter became the highest-ranked prospect to ever commit to a HBCU or an FCS program

    On the field, Sanders went 4-3 in a 2020 season that was moved to the spring of 2021 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but led Jackson State to an 11-2 record in his second season and leaves the Tigers having guided them to a 12-0 record in 2022 and a place in the Celebration Bowl for the second successive campaign.

    Now the man known as 'Coach Prime', in a take on the 'Prime Time' nickname he earned during his stellar playing career, turns his focus to revitalising a Colorado team that went 1-11 in 2022, finishing last in the Pac-12. The Buffaloes have just one winning season in 17 years.

    "There were a number of highly qualified and impressive candidates interested in becoming the next head football coach at Colorado, but none of them had the pedigree, the knowledge and the ability to connect with student-athletes like Deion Sanders," athletic director Rick George said.

    "Not only will Coach Prime energise our fanbase, I'm confident that he will lead our program back to national prominence while leading a team of high quality and high character."

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