New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold might be the real deal. But then again, it might be too soon to tell. Here’s what we know so far. And what their coach is saying about the youngest opening day starting QB in NFL history…
At the Jets season opener against the Lions, the New York team ushered in what just might become known as the Sam Darnold Era. Aside from an interception on the first play, everything else went right for the 21-year-old from USC. Fans are proclaiming Darnold their newfound savior and deeming him a franchise quarterback, but Head Coach Todd Bowles is saying whoaaaa.
According to Bowles, Darnold’s first career start, while impressive, was exactly that: just one game.
After they pounded the Lions, Bowles said, “We won one game, I can tell you after about 100 more of them whether we have [a franchise quarterback] or not, right now it’s a little early… Obviously, [we’re] starting him, he can play the position. He’s got to go through some things like he will every week, every week will be different for him just like everybody else on the team that’s young. You grow with the position, he’s not green, he’s very sharp, he handles himself very well and I trust him to make adjustments as he goes.”
But don’t tell that to the Jets fans. Especially the ones who made the trek to Detroit. They stayed late into the fourth quarter, cheering a crazy loud “J-E-T-S, Jets! Jets! Jets!” that could be heard on national television. It was like Christmas came early in MetLife Stadium.
Darnold was a number-three pick overall and his first game did show enormous potential. Right off the bat, he displayed mental wherewithal by quickly rebounding from a pick six in his first NFL game against the Lions. (No worries though, the same thing happened to Brett Favre and Jameis Winston at the start of their NFL careers.) He recovered and finished that game having completed 16 of his 20 passes for a total of 198 yards and two touchdowns. He can make the correct reads, throw on the move, and he’s got accuracy too. What more could you want in your bright and shiny new QB?!
Okay, it didn’t hurt things that the Jets defense was spectacular against the Lions, with five picks over the course of the game, and their special teams scored their first touchdown since 2012. (And that some sports experts say the Lions have the worst defense in the league.)
However, Darnold’s best moment of that night – and maybe THE best moment of that night for Jets fans – was his first-ever NFL touchdown. He threw the ball deep into tight coverage to connect with wide receiver Robby Anderson for a 41-yard score. Later, the Jets sideline staff were seen labeling the ball as a keepsake for Darnold and his family.
Still Bowles insisted, “It’s going to take more than a game to say that he’s really good. It’s going to take more than a game.”
Jets fans are excited, ecstatic, but still a little nervous and afraid. They don’t have the best luck when it comes to quarterbacks. Since the days of Joe Namath, the Jets have run through 30 starting quarterbacks in 42 years. But Darnold might just be the real thing. He passed every test during training camp and the preseason, and he’s proven he can learn the playbook and handle the pressure of big NFL games.
As quarterback at USC, he was able to overcome turnovers and make comebacks, and it looks like he’s carried that mentality with him to the NFL. He’s not easily rattled. He’s got composure. During Week 1, he proved that all over again. During Week 2, he made us question it.
All of that cautious talk by Bowles may have been appropriate given the Jets’ Week 2 performance at home against the Dolphins. As fans waited to see if Darnold could continue to live up to the hype, the whole team looked sloppier with a series of turnovers, missed tackles, drops, and failure to capitalize on several unforced errors by Miami. Darnold made a couple of bad decisions that ended in two interceptions. He ended up finishing 24 for 41 with 334 yards and one touchdown. The Jets lost 12-20.
But are these just growing pains?
Like Bowles said, we’ll just have to see how his next 100 games go. But we have a feeling that Jets fans won’t be jumping off the Sam Darnold bandwagon any time soon.
At least now we’ll take all that hype with a grain of salt.