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Pay the Man: Muhammad Wilkerson playing lights-out in 2015

Muhammad Wilkerson is playing like a man possessed for the Jets this season

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LINDEN, N.J.- Muhammad Wilkerson won’t talk about it. Not a word. Not a peep. Not even the slightest utterance of the first syllable of any kind of acknowledgment pertaining to his sheer dominance on the football field this season. 

His 38 tackles? Nothing. His seven sacks? Nope. His 28 quarterback pressures? Nada. 

It’s all silence from the Jets big defensive end. His teammates on the other hand?

“Oh, I’ll brag on him for you,” Jets nose tackle Damon Harrison said. “You can’t say enough about the guy.” 

Now in his fifth NFL season, Wilkerson, who was selected by the Jets in the first round of the 2011 NFL Draft, is in the midst of what may be his best year yet. He’s been a constant force on the Jets defensive line— Stout against the run, and equally impressive against the pass. With seven games to play, Wilkerson is four sacks away from setting a new career high. 

He’s been dominant. His coaches know that. His teammates know that. His opponents know that. 

“Same old Mo. He’s been making plays since I’ve been in the league,” Jets defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson said. “Nothing has changed. I’m glad I’m back to celebrate with him when we do make plays. 

“If you leave him unblocked, he’s gonna cause havoc. That’s how I feel. That’s how we all feel. I’m used to it. It shouldn’t surprise anyone anymore… Most definitely he’s on the hunt.”

What’s ironic is that arguably Wilkerson’s best season is coming a year after arguably his most frustrating. 

After recording 63 tackles, 10.5 sacks and two forced fumbles in 2013, injures put a damper on what had been shaping up to be an awfully good 2014. Midway through the season, Wilkerson suffered a turf toe injury that cost him three games. When he returned, he wasn’t the same player. He finished the year with just 5.5 sacks. 

Wilkerson didn’t have the strength to drive and explode into offensive linemen, nor did he have the speed to chase down quarterbacks. He was still good--actually, really good--but he simply couldn’t play at the elite level that had made him one of the best 3-4 defensive linemen in the NFL. 

“[The toe] still bothers me, but it’s something I’ve gotta play through,” Wilkerson said Wednesday when speaking at his charity event helping those less fortunate for Thanksgiving. “I still get treatments and things like that. I’m really not worried about it. Just make sure I go out there, give it my all, and be dominant the best I can.” 

As good as Wilkerson has been this season, the Jets, due in part to the team being hit hard by injuries, have started to struggle. New York has dropped three of its last four games. After starting this season 4-1 and one game out of first in the AFC East, the Jets are now 5-4 and just a game up on the last-placed Miami Dolphins. 

It’s not panic time yet, but all on the Jets 53-man roster know there aren’t many more losses the team can afford to take. 

“[We’re] going to be fine,” Wilkerson said. “We’re still confident. Nobody is hanging their heads.”

This Sunday, the Jets face the 4-5 Houston Texans, who will likely be without starting quarterback Brian Hoyer. In his place, a player taken five rounds after Wilkerson in the 2011 draft, T.J. Yates, is expected to start. 

The North Carolina product has appeared in 15 games in his NFL career, completed 60.2 percent of his passes and has thrown for 1,233 yards with four touchdowns and seven interceptions. Last Monday night, Yates threw the game-deciding touchdown to receiver DeAndre Hopkins in Houston’s 10-6 victory over the previously-unbeaten Cincinnati Bengals. 

Even though Hoyer may be sidelined, the Jets won’t be taking Houston lightly. It’s not a trap game, per say, but it is a game the Jets should win if they hope to make a playoff run. 

But will they get the victory? Well, that won’t be known until Sunday. 

“We still have the pieces to the puzzle to make things happen. To get wins,” Wilkerson said. “We need everyone out there. We gotta make sure we get back on track to doing things the right way out on the field in order to get wins.”

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This article will also appear in Saturday's edition of The Journal Inquirer

Connor Hughes is the New York Jets beat writer for The Journal Inquirer and Scout.com. He can be reached on Twitter (@Connor_J_Hughes), or via email (connor_j_hughes@yahoo.com)


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