Packers' Muhammad Wilkerson won't lack motivation playing against Jets

Ryan Wood
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Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) falls down while being chased New York Jets' Muhammed Wilkerson (96) and Demario Davis (56) during their 2014 game at Lambeau Field.

Last in a 13-part series on the opponents the Green Bay Packers will face during the 2018 regular season.

GREEN BAY – Two days before Christmas, the Green Bay Packers will arrive in the nation’s largest city to play the New York Jets.

Holiday trips to the Jets haven’t been kind over the years, ending in a pair of blowouts. The Packers lost 28-3 to the Jets on Dec. 20, 1981. They lost 42-17 in New York on Dec. 29, 2002. Both victories propelled the Jets into the playoffs, with the latter being described by Hall of Fame running back Curtis Martin as “the best moment in my career."

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It’s far too early to foresee whether this year’s version of the J-E-T-S will be worthy of the postseason. But with only one winning season and no playoff appearances since 2010, a stretch in which they’ve been stuck in the shadow of their big-city neighbor New York Giants, there is optimism for the future.

Here are three things to know about the Jets:

Darnold’s development

The Jets could have stood pat with their sixth overall pick and drafted a potential franchise quarterback, but instead they sold the farm to eliminate any risk of missing their target. They moved up three spots to pick third, sending their No. 6 pick along with three second-round picks (one in 2019) to the Indianapolis Colts. The power play netted USC quarterback Sam Darnold, whom many considered the top quarterback in an unprecedented class. (The Cleveland Browns, who picked Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield first overall, thought otherwise.) With Josh McCown and Teddy Bridgewater added this offseason, the Jets should have time to let Darnold develop. Still, there’s at least a solid chance Darnold could start by late December, especially if the Jets are out of playoff contention. The Jets placed their future on Darnold’s right shoulder. Now, it’s his turn to deliver for a franchise that has long been starved for a franchise quarterback.

Mo’s homecoming

For three seasons, Muhammad Wilkerson gave the Jets one of the top interior pass rushers in the NFL. With 28.5 sacks from 2013-15, including a pair of double-digit sack seasons, Wilkerson signed a five-year, $86 million contract in 2016. Then underperformance and off-field issues — most notably tardiness from team meetings — led the Jets to release him this offseason. Now on a one-year, prove-it deal, Wilkerson is trying to remake his career before turning 30 next year. Better believe he’ll want to prove something to the team that pushed him out the door.

Gutekunst’s gambit

It’s no surprise Brian Gutekunst opened his tenure as Packers general manager focused extensively on his team’s cornerback depth chart. And, really, the avenue he took trying to improve was mostly expected. After jettisoning Damarious Randall, Gutekunst passed on making a major splash in free agency. Instead, he signed veteran Tramon Williams at a modest price, then used his first two draft picks on a pair of corners. That’s one way to do it; the Jets used another. In Trumaine Johnson, the Jets handed out the largest contract to any free-agent corner: five years, $72.5 million. Which approach will be more successful? By the time the Packers face Johnson, there should be an answer.

Packers schedule glimpse

Dec. 23 at New York Jets, noon, Fox

Week before: at Chicago, Dec. 16.

Week after: vs. Lions, Dec. 30.

On the horizon: Playoffs?

New York Jets

Coach: Todd Bowles (22-29 overall, 20-28 with Jets, fourth season with Jets).

2017 record: 5-11, fourth in AFC East.

Scoring offense: 18.6 points per game (24th in NFL).

Total offense: 305.3 yards per game (28th).

Scoring defense: 23.9 points allowed per game (22nd).

Total defense: 352.3 yards allowed per game (25th).

Series: Packers trail 8-4.

Last meeting: After a disastrous start (their first snap was a lost fumble) that led to a 21-3 deficit (the Jets opened with three straight touchdowns), the Packers were toast 20 minutes into their 2014 home opener. Then they foreshadowed what was to come playing inside Lambeau Field that fall, exploding for an improbable, 31-24 comeback win. Three things began to develop that day: Aaron Rodgers’ run at a second MVP award (346 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions), Jordy Nelson’s finest NFL season (an 80-yard touchdown late in the third quarter was the game-winner), and the Packers' utter dominance at Lambeau Field (they were the only NFC team to go 8-0 at home). But an underlying subplot is even more interesting four years later: Muhammad Wilkerson was ejected in the third quarter after shoving receiver Davante Adams and throwing a punch toward left tackle David Bakhtiari. Both are now his teammates.

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