After three straight losses, Muhammad Wilkerson had seen enough. After three straight blown leads, the Jets’ longest-tenured defensive player needed to be heard.
“Mo brought us all up and said, ‘This isn’t us. We gotta keep fighting. We gotta stop messing around and we gotta finish people,’ ” second-year linebacker Jordan Jenkins said. “He’s a hell of a leader. He may not talk to the media a lot, he may not be outspoken, but in terms of being a leader, he’s one of the leaders of this team.”
The voice of the veteran, and star defensive end, carries more weight than most. Recently, his actions on the field — even just finding his way to the field — have been even more impactful.
After being held without a sack for the first seven games of the season, Wilkerson notched a sack for the second straight game in Thursday’s 34-21 win over the Bills, adding a pass deflection, two quarterback hits and three tackles despite playing through a sprained shoulder and toe injury on a short week.
Wilkerson hasn’t practiced in four weeks because of the lingering injuries, and has been receiving pain-killing shots for each ailment just to suit up each week.
“I think he is playing a little better in spite of feeling like crap, but I think he’s getting better,” coach Todd Bowles said Friday. “I think it’s less and less each week, and that’s allowing him to go out. I think he just blocks it out and goes out and plays.
“He studies. That’s the biggest thing. He studies and he understands what the game-plan is and what he has to do once he gets out there in walkthrough and everything else. The biggest is just making sure he stays in shape and obviously eating right and getting his treatment, so that’s the biggest part of it. At some point, you hope that gets better, and it looks like it’s getting better, hopefully. That’s the biggest challenge of it.”
Over the past three games, Wilkerson has looked the part of the 2015 Pro Bowler — which earned him a five-year, $86 million deal — creating constant pressure, and posting two tackles for a loss, with two deflected passes and the two sacks.
“He’s played well the last three weeks for sure,” Bowles said. “He’s doing great. [His] attitude, work ethic, he comes to treatment every day. He makes sure he’s ready to play on Sunday. I’m not sure how he does it, but we’ll see if he can keep it up.”
Though Bowles can’t figure out how Wilkerson stays so sharp without practice, the 28-year-old said it’s been one of the least difficult parts of the situation.
“It’s more so just mental,” Wilkerson said. “As long as I’m getting those mental reps, I know my job, I know the plays, it really just comes down to knowing that and once I come out here [for games] just executing the best I can.”
Wilkerson was unsure if he’d be ready to face Buffalo on Thursday, but with a few extra days to recover, his status should no longer be questioned, even if the questionable tags continue.
“Honestly, I wasn’t too sure how I was going to be,” Wilkerson said following Thursday’s win. “But, it comes down to this: I’m the type of player that I want to be out there with my guys. I’m pretty sure everybody on this team and in this locker room knows that. So, I’m going to do my best to prepare and get ready for the game.”
“I’m just doing my job. I try to do my job each and every day to the best I can, get treatment, stay in the training room, rehab and when it comes time to play, just do my job the best that I can.”