The Jets had a heartbreaking 27-22 loss against the Vikings on Sunday that dropped them to 7-5 on the season.
However, one bright side for Gang Green is that it may have found a future star at running back.
In his first NFL start for the injured Michael Carter (ankle), Zonovan “Bam” Knight amassed 90 yards on 15 carries. He also caught five receptions for 28 yards.
Down 27-15 in the fourth quarter, Knight’s 48-yard run helped set up quarterback Mike White’s eventual one-yard touchdown run that cut the deficit to one score.
This is all coming off Knight’s first NFL game, the 31-10 win against the Bears the week before where he led the Jets in rushing with 69 yards on 14 carries.
“I don’t think it was anything I specifically saw,” Knight told the Daily News about his 48-yard run. “I think it was just people executing up front and wide receivers blocking.
“I just trusted the tracks and they took care of the blocking and I just cut off of them. Really, it wasn’t on me, it started with the guys up front and the wide receivers helping out.”
During warm-ups for the Vikings game at U.S. Bank Stadium, Knight found out he was starting for Carter from Jets running backs coach Taylor Embree as he asked Knight if was he “ready” just 60 minutes before kickoff.
This is a moment Knight has been waiting for since the Jets signed him as an undrafted free agent last May. Coming out of N.C. State, the Jets obviously knew what type of talent Knight was despite him not being selected in the 2022 NFL Draft. As a member of the Wolfpack, Knight rushed for 2,286 yards, 18 touchdowns while averaging 5.5 yards per carry.
But it’s unlikely the team thought he would be as big of a contributor this soon into his career with Breece Hall, Carter and Ty Johnson ahead of him on the depth chart.
During training camp and the preseason, Knight dazzled playing on the second and third-team offenses as he broke up several explosive runs. Against the Eagles in the preseason opener, Knight’s 52-yard kick return set up the eventual game-winning touchdown. He also rushed for 53 yards and a touchdown on 16 preseason carries
All of that led to the Jets putting him on their 53-man roster following training camp.
Gang Green played some musical chairs and released Knight from its active roster and placed him on its practice squad shortly thereafter. But the Jets have had some injuries in their backfield within the last two months and signed him back to the active roster in October after Hall was lost for the season due to a torn ACL.
The Jets then traded for Jaguars running back James Robinson to help fill the void. But the team still increased Knight’s role in the game against the Bears after Carter went down with his injury and they made Robinson inactive.
“Just what he was doing in practice, just thought it was the right time, going to contribute in many facets — not just on offense, but special teams as well,” Jets offensive Coordinator Mike LaFleur said about Knight.
“When Michael Carter went down, and he kind of turned into our lead back, I look out there and he still was running down on kickoff. He does a lot for Brant [Boyer], obviously, but we just felt like it was a great opportunity to give him his opportunity.”
Even when Carter is healthy, it is hard to imagine the Jets limiting Knight’s role in the offense. No matter if it’s Zach Wilson or White under center, the Jets have used the running game to set up their passing attack all season long.
Gang Green likes to have a stable of running backs the team can rely on at any given time. Much like Saleh saw Kyle Shanahan do with the 49ers’ offense.
“It has been a blessing to even put on the uniform,” Knight said. “First, I have to say thanks to the coaches for giving me the opportunity.
“They called me as an undrafted free agent, brought me into the building. So I knew I had to just come in, work and I knew it was a chance that I wouldn’t play, maybe I would. Just staying locked in this whole season and make sure I understand the playbook and still learning.
“It was good to stay honed and getting my opportunity.”